The biggest Banksy yet: Street art exhibition opens in Underground Atlanta

The unauthorized show includes both originals and reproductions

Welcome to “The Art of Banksy: Without Limits.” Please note the obviously fake cardboard security cameras mounted everywhere. Step through the phony metal detector that looks like it was made by a bunch of high school students.

For this shoddy make-believe you paid $30? Or more?

In the world of Banksy, the anonymous, ubiquitous British street artist, you can get pranked before you even get inside.

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver/SEE Global Entertainment.

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver/SEE Global Entertainment.

“I started going through the movements as if this was a real security station, taking off my purse, putting my hands up,” said Angela Farr Schiller, director of arts education for the nonprofit ArtsBridge Foundation in Cobb County, who was one of the first patrons to see the show.

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“Then I said, ‘Ohhhh. I see how trained I am in this post-9/11 world to surrender my power to the trappings of quote unquote security.’ And that gave me a framework for looking at everything else in the exhibit.”

The entrance to the new art exhibit, making its North American debut at Underground Atlanta for a four-month run, is actually an exact reproduction of part of a 2015 art installation in England by Banksy and other artists called “Dismaland,” a dystopian theme park that skewered the disposable cheesiness of life today.

In other words, it’s the Banksiest gateway possible.

“The Art of Banksy” has been touring the world since 2016, and has been seen by more than 1.2 million people in 12 cities. The Underground Atlanta version is the biggest “Art of Banksy” yet, at 33,000 square feet (about double the usual space) with the most art yet: 158 works, including stenciled wall mural reproductions, original prints, lithographs, sculptures, videos and multimedia installations.

In addition to “Dismaland,” there is Banksy’s most famous work, “Girl With Balloon” (one version of which famously shredded itself after it was sold for more than $1 million at a Sotheby’s auction); “Flower Chucker,” a rioter hurling a bouquet of flowers instead of a Molotov cocktail; an iconic British phone booth upended on its side and punctured by an axe; and Queen Elizabeth II with a red lightning bolt across her face (always misidentified as David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, when it’s really Bowie’s Aladdin Sane character).

And of course, plenty of rats, which are sort of his spirit animal.

Banksy is sometimes heralded as an artist of hope and whimsy, but there is also a lot of weaponry here, and violence, real or threatened. And his attacks on capitalism are legendary. One stencil shows Kim Phuc, the Vietnamese girl badly burned by napalm in a famous 1972 war photo, being escorted by a cheery, waving Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse. Another stencil shows a line of customers at a booth queueing up to pay $30 apiece for T-shirts that say “Destroy Capitalism.”

“Throughout art history, from Van Gogh to Georgia O’Keeffe to Basquiat to Andy Warhol, you have these artists that reinvent art in ways that we have never seen before,” says Atlanta street artist Big Papito, who helped create the exhibit. “Banksy is one of those stars.”

The framed art is owned by collectors, but the wall murals and stencils are reproduction of works from all over the world that cannot be moved or may not even exist any more. Local street artists Big Papito, SPRAYKID and Elprez were brought in to reproduce them using stencils.

Credit: Courtesy of SEE Global Entertainment

Credit: Courtesy of SEE Global Entertainment

“When Banksy made some of these murals, some of them were painted over and some of them were ripped out of the walls,” Big Papito explains. “He’s got some crazy followers.”

“Precision was the most important thing,” he adds. “If you’re gonna replicate a work that is not existing any more, you have to be as accurate as possible.”

Banksy’s anonymity is as important to his legend as his art; maybe more important. Although his identity is officially a mystery, sleuths have made a pretty good case that he is Robin Gunningham of Bristol, England, a former graffiti artist who once went by the gangsterish tag “Robin Banx” (as in robbing banks, as in Banksy).

“I think he’s very, very clever,” says Kemal Gurkaynak, the Turkish national who launched “Without Limits” in 2016 and built it into an international Banksy juggernaut.

Credit: Courtesy of SEE Global Entertainment

Credit: Courtesy of SEE Global Entertainment

“Being anonymous is a very marketing oriented thing,” he continues. “Whatever he does anywhere in the world, the next day he is on the front page.”

Banksy has issued a statement that the show is unauthorized, which Gurkaynak does not dispute. But he says he and his partners own the non-mural artworks, and he is in touch with the website that Banksy has set up to monitor those who try to take advantage of his fame, called Pest Control, which has not tried to stop the show.

And as Banksy himself once famously said, “Copyright is for losers,” just another irony at work in a show wall-to-wall with them.

Gurkaynak says he chose Atlanta because of the worldwide fame of Coca-Cola, CNN and the 1996 Olympics. And he chose Underground Atlanta because “you cannot find this kind of place anywhere,” as he gestures at the vast, empty Underground corridors lined with old red brick that surround the exhibit.

“I thought Underground was such a perfect place for it,” says Schiller of ArtsBridge Foundation. “It’s a location that really speaks to the economic inequality of our city. It’s a very thought-provoking experience to go into this former mecca of capitalism, the shopping mall. And in the heart of it, in the belly of it, is this challenge to the world we are going back into when we come out of the exhibit.”


“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.