The Art of Banksy, Amsterdam, 27th September 2016
By Michele H.
Having negotiated the vagaries of the Breda to Amsterdam train schedule and won (mainly thanks to KrissStallabrass and her mastery of the NS Reizen App), we made our way from Amsterdam Central station to the Beurs vanBerlage, the old Stock Exchange. Within this beautifully restored 19th century building is a new subterranean gallery, currently housing The Art of Banksy.
There, we found a comprehensive collection of more than 85 original works on canvas, paintings, photographs, and sculpture. The exhibition included well known works such as Balloon Girl and several of the playful ‘Rat’ artworks. Wewatched the short, Oscar-nominated documentary ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, a sideways look at the creation and marketing of street art. It was perhaps best described by the New York Times as “a trompe l’oeil: a film that looks like a documentary but feels like a monumental con.”
Who is Banksy? A street artist? A political activist? A vandal who targets public places? Is he Robert del Naja, frontman of Massive Attack? Or a cathedral-school educated Bristolian? Or a group of artists? Although he takes great lengths to conceal his identity, Banksy advocates a direct connection between an artist and his constituency, maintaining “There’s a whole new audience out there, and it’s never been easier to sell. You don’t have to go to college, drag round a portfolio, mail off transparencies to snooty galleries or sleep with someone powerful, all you need now is a few ideas and a broadband connection. This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people. We need to make it count.”
It could be said that Banksy’s subversiveness diminishes as his prices rise. He may already have reached the tipping point where his success has made it impossible for him to remain rooted in the subculture from which he emerged.
The irony that his anti-establishment art commands huge prices isn’t lost on him. “I love the way capitalism finds a place – even for its enemies. It’s definitely boom-time in the discontent industry.”
Towards the end of the exhibition, we pondered further the disconnect between a street artist exhibiting his work in a solid Dutch building.It transpires that the architect, Hendrik Petrus Berlage,was a staunch socialist who believed the stock exchange trade had a short lease of life. Inspired by the Italian Palazzo Publicos, he decided to design the building in such a way that it could serve as a grand communal home, a public palace, after socialism had triumphed. A fitting place for a Banksy collection after all.
We exited through the gift shop and found a nice place for lunch by the canal.