Review: The Art of Banksy: ‘Without Limits’ has definite limitations

A Banksy quote turned into a mural and featured in "The Art of Banksy: Without Limits."
Courtesy of Nicholas Wolaver for SEE Global Entertainment

Credit: Handout

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A Banksy quote turned into a mural and featured in "The Art of Banksy: Without Limits." Courtesy of Nicholas Wolaver for SEE Global Entertainment

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Exhibition of the street artist’s work features few original works

With Jean-Michel Basquiat’s name and art now being used to promote Coach bags, we have entered a strange new phase in contemporary art in which the creative mind and integrity of the artist is less pertinent than the instant brand recognition of the work they produced. So despite Basquiat dying of a heroin overdose in 1988, you can now purport to own a little piece of him by buying a handbag made in China with no real input or oversight from the artist himself.

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Banksy designed the 2003 Blur record album for "Think Tank," on display in "Without Limits" alongside a mural (seen in the background) in the Banksy mode recreated by local artists. Courtesy of Lola Scott Art for SEE Global Entertainment.

Credit: Handout

Banksy designed the 2003 Blur record album for "Think Tank," on display in "Without Limits" alongside a mural (seen in the background) in the Banksy mode recreated by local artists.
Courtesy of Lola Scott Art for SEE Global Entertainment.

Credit: Handout

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Banksy designed the 2003 Blur record album for "Think Tank," on display in "Without Limits" alongside a mural (seen in the background) in the Banksy mode recreated by local artists. Courtesy of Lola Scott Art for SEE Global Entertainment.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Unauthorized reproductions were on my mind as I surveyed the new traveling exhibition “The Art of Banksy: Without Limits” on view, unironically, in a former shopping mall — Underground Atlanta. “The Art of Banksy” is, in the current vernacular, an “experiential” art event featuring just 27 original works by Banksy among the more than 155 mostly reproductions on display. At the exhibition’s Seoul stop, enough visitors were outraged at the scant number of actual works by Banksy (mostly screenprints), that ticket refunds were offered to dissatisfied customers.

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Twenty-three Banksy images such as "Love Plane" have been recreated as murals by a team of local artists including Big Papito, GhostKingOG and Spraykid for "Without Limits." Courtesy of Nicholas Wolaver for SEE Global Entertainment

Credit: Handout

Twenty-three Banksy images such as "Love Plane" have been recreated as murals by a team of local artists including Big Papito, GhostKingOG and Spraykid for "Without Limits."
Courtesy of Nicholas Wolaver for SEE Global Entertainment

Credit: Handout

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Twenty-three Banksy images such as "Love Plane" have been recreated as murals by a team of local artists including Big Papito, GhostKingOG and Spraykid for "Without Limits." Courtesy of Nicholas Wolaver for SEE Global Entertainment

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The anonymous British art provocateur Banksy, understandably inspires fierce devotion. With so many spin doctors and snake oil salesmen sucking all of the oxygen out of public life, it’s refreshing to see an artist who punctures the cant with wit, playfulness and deep reservoirs of empathy and rage over the plight of Syrian immigrants or the shoddy treatment of Palestinians, and the general transformation of our everyday life into a shopping mall experience. His withering takedown of Disney consumerism in his 2015 Dismaland theme park parody by the English seaside and his facepalms at the British Empire’s homophobia and racism have earned Banksy a popular fan base.

Not surprisingly, the artist notorious for his distinctly contrarian, anti-capitalist bent, has not approved “The Art of Banksy”'s strange exercise in mining his art world celebrity. So it leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth to see that talent for irreverence now yoked to a very profitable cash cow; a $20-50 per ticket ingestion of some Banksy fumes. “The Art of Banksy” can feel like the 21st century version of the carnies rolling into town to separate the rubes from their paychecks with some fast talk and a promise of revelation.

In many ways “The Art of Banksy” is itself a strange replicant, an attempt to mimic the look and feel of a contemporary art exhibition with error-ridden wall labels, installations and a few themed rooms within the Underground space. Banksy quotes are rendered graffiti-style on gallery walls and famous Banksy murals have been reproduced by Atlanta street artists. There are framed reproductions of his most famous images and video clips from the Banksy documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (yes, you do) also featured.

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Banksy's protest-stay The Walled Off Hotel in the West Bank, for a time offered kitschy souvenirs painted by Palestinian artists for sale in its gift shop. Three of those tchotchkes are on display in "Without Limits." Originally sold for about $60 dollars at the Walled Off Hotel, the souvenirs are now available for resale at steep prices on sites like eBay. Courtesy of Lola Scott Art for SEE Global Entertainment

Credit: Handout

Banksy's protest-stay The Walled Off Hotel in the West Bank, for a time offered kitschy souvenirs painted by Palestinian artists for sale in its gift shop. Three of those tchotchkes are on display in "Without Limits." Originally sold for about $60 dollars at the Walled Off Hotel, the souvenirs are now available for resale at steep prices on sites like eBay.  
Courtesy of Lola Scott Art for SEE Global Entertainment

Credit: Handout

caption arrowCaption
Banksy's protest-stay The Walled Off Hotel in the West Bank, for a time offered kitschy souvenirs painted by Palestinian artists for sale in its gift shop. Three of those tchotchkes are on display in "Without Limits." Originally sold for about $60 dollars at the Walled Off Hotel, the souvenirs are now available for resale at steep prices on sites like eBay. Courtesy of Lola Scott Art for SEE Global Entertainment

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

In a gesture that seems to ape another experiential art phenomenon, the organizers have even created a Yayoi Kusama-style infinity mirror room where you can don paper booties and wander inside to watch Banksy graphics projected onto the mirrored walls. But perhaps the weirdest dimension of what feels more like a Google search than an art exhibition, are the staged vignettes created to lend street life veracity down to the imitation urine. There are several recreations of famous Banksy career “moments” like a street scene that references Banksy’s supposed masquerade as a street painter outside the 2019 Venice Biennale. Other installations recreate British streets with lamp posts and ersatz Banksy street art, and look like natural history dioramas married to high-concept department store window displays.

But then again, who am I to begrudge an Atlanta kid with a countercultural bent adopting Banksy as a role model and hoping for even a whisper of his greatness by checking out “The Art of Banksy”? It’s hard not to be touched by the sight of a little boy creating his own Banksy-inspired stenciled image in spray paint on a T-shirt as his mother indulgently looks on. Questioning authority and advocating for the underdog, after all, are Banksy’s real cultural currency, and anyone can try it.

“The Art of Banksy: ‘Without Limits’”

Through Jan. 9. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Tuesdays. $19.50-$49.60. Underground Atlanta, 50 Upper Alabama St., Atlanta. artofbanksy.com.

Bottom line: It’s hard to mainline the spirit of irreverent British street artist Banksy in an exhibition defined by the same crude market forces the artist lampoons.