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Who's Afraid of a Banksy & Co. Street Art Exhibition?

As expected, not everyone is pleased.
Banksy, Love in the air, 2003. Stencil e spray su cartone, 66x67,50 cm Collezione C.H., Monaco di Baviera. Images courtesy Genus Bononiae

A retrospective attempting to comment on the influence of street art's two greatest tools—the aerosol can and the internet—have had on urban space opened in Bologna, Italy on Friday, gathering the work of Banksy, Invader, Daniele Perra Parian, and more into a single space.

The portion of wall where Parian iconically-scrawled "God Shave the Queen" hangs just a few steps away from the bouquet-wielding protestor in Banksy's Love in the Air, and more iconic works that would normally cost a fortune in airfare are available to see in a single week. The show, on display at Bologna's Palazzo Pepoli, is called Street Art - Banksy & Co.: Art in the Urban Form, and is designed to, "tell an important chapter of the history of Bologna and invite visitors to work out a new way to look at and relate to the urban space," through over 250 individual works, according to the press release. Based on the below video, the pure scale of the show seems like something special to behold, with famous works scattered about the massive space, still emblazoned on their original walls and doors.


However, some find the show awe-inspiring primarily in its apparent disregard for the street art community. Banksy & Co. is curated by Academy of Fine Arts and Banca Imi president Fabio Roversi Monaco, a powerful figure in the Bologna art world, with support from the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio and production by Genus Bononiae. These three benefactors give the show a flavor of the monied elite in direct opposition to the ideals of many artworks within the show.

On top of that, several of those works were removed from their public locations without permission or approval from the artists. Mysterious Italian muralist Blu, who has several works in Banksy & Co., has protested the show by destroying decades of work all over Bologna in an effort to save it from being "preserved" without his permission. A blog post written at Blu's request on the Wu Ming Foundation website—he rarely talks to journalists for any reason—reveals his reasoning:

Blu, Phetek, spray on steel damper, 280x226 cm, private collection

"After having denounced and stigmatized graffiti and drawings as vandalism, after having oppressed youth cultures that produced them, after having cleared out the places that have been laboratory for those artists, now the powers of the city want to become the saviors of street art. All this deserved an answer."

Other artists whose work is displayed in Banksy & Co. feel differently, including old guard New York writer John Fekner. He rebuts Blu's actions to Vandalog, saying, "If you create rock, punk, rap or any other type of music, there’s no way of stopping some Muzak elevator-friendly dispirited interpretation of your original rebellious music."


Daniele Perra Parian, Keith Haring, Anarchetiquette - Anonymous, God Shave the Queen, 2004, Written and removed from the wall panel, 220x409x10 cm, 2 panels, Daniele Perra Parian Collection

Fekner continues, "The bottom line is: what’s done in public doesn’t remain in public. There’s no protection for artists who trespass. It’s the chance one take outdoors. If you create illegal art murals, street rules are always in effect: 1) You can’t stop a drunk in the middle of the night from pissing on your wall. 2) You can’t stop a bulldozer from razing your work. 3) You can’t stop a neighborhood anti-graffiti squad from painting over your work. 4) You can’t stop a well-dressed thief in a suit, or their hired slug with a chisel, from removing your wall work and hauling it off to their lair, garage, museum or art market… If you analyze and then destroy your creations; that’s an overreaction. Courageous? Yes. But it goes beyond your original spirit, freedom and joy of creating your work."

Hyperallergic points out, Banksy once also raged against the art world machine appropriating his work into the 2014 Sincura Art Club. At the time, he wrote on his website, “This show has got nothing to do with me and I think it’s disgusting people are allowed to go around displaying art on walls without getting permission." However, we've covered the reaction to Banksy's later residency in New York, of which very few artworks remain in their orignal locations. With that endeavor, the voracious consumption of his work, from the massive lines to take art selfies to the locals charging tourists $5 for each one, seemed like an integral part of the artwork.


Dran, Art of Buffing, 2010, pencil, gouache and spray on paper glued on canvas, 50x61 cm Collection Jacques et Thierry, Paris

Learn more about Street Art - Banksy & Co.: Art in the Urban Form at Bologna's Palazzo Pepoli on its official website. The exhibit runs through May 9. Entry costs $15.


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