Banksy arrives to Rome: 0ver 100 of the English artist’s works are on display at Chiostro del Bramante
British street artist and superstar Banksy has returned to Rome with an exhibition at Chiostro del Bramante from September 8th until April 11th. Banksy is a contradiction of fame and mystery, with anonymity at the core of his identity he is one of the most influential characters of the art world. Graffiti is illegal so secrecy is a defence against the police, but it also makes space to confront his controversial themes of war, politics and decaying society without his personality distracting or diluting the discussion.
His identity is clocked in conspiracy, the most recent suggests he is a collaboration of British artists and musicians. He came up through the underground movement in Bristol and people think he might come from the city, it is where his first street art showed up in the early nineties.
The exhibition is expansive, curated over two floors in a labyrinth of grey rooms which evoke the meandering mess of city streets. The historic architecture of Bramante’s Cloister compliments Banksy’s urban street art with the notion that all art is contemporary, graffiti as an evolution of renaissance frescoes. Most of the work on display has come from private collectors, so it is a rare moment to see so much of Banksy’s art in one place.
The opening work is a 2004 screen print of the mural Girl with Balloon, a Banksy classic showing a young girl’s balloon blowing away in the wind. In 2018 it sold at Sotheby’s auction for an eye watering price and seconds later proceeded to self-destruct. This stunt threw the art world into chaos and people struggled to believe the prestigious auction house was not in on the trick. The ultimate irony was that the value of the print actually increased after it was shredded, calling into question the nonsensicalities of consumerist art, especially in the underground world of graffiti and performance work.
Animals are the spokesmen of Banksy’s urban landscapes and he identifies rats with street artists because “they exist without permission. They are hated, hunted and persecuted. They live in quiet despair in the filth. And yet they can bring all of civilization to its knees”. His monkeys, dogs, pigs and elephants have the rebelliousness of Orwell, they exist to comment on society’s loss of humanity and the human zoo we’ve come to occupy. Devolved Parliament, a 2009 print, is a thinly veiled comment on the intelligence of our politicians, which in 2019 sold at Sotheby’s auction for £9.8 million in less than thirteen minutes.
There is a room dedicated to works from Banksy’s first solo exhibition in 2006, Barely Legal. This LA show was held over a weekend and shocked participants with the elephant in the room, a message on global poverty. While not an especially original metaphor, Banksy put a real life 37-year-old elephant in the room and covered her entirely with non toxic paint to match the brocade wallpaper. This stunt baffled animal rights activists and in true Banksy style was a perfect satire of the expression as the poverty crisis remained undiscussed in lieu of the elephant.
Peckham Trolley is another hilarious piece on display, it’s an imitation of a prehistoric carving which Banksy snuck into the British Museum and hung on the wall, a prank which went unnoticed for three whole days. This mischievous, hiding in plain sight humour, so distinctive to Banksy was particularly successful with the Di-Faced Tenner incident. Banksy doctored British £10 notes with faces of the late Princess Diana and forged the bank’s name to “Banksy of England”. He threw wads of this fake money into crowds at Notting Hill Carnival and Reading Festival then proceeded to watch as it was spent at shops and dispersed into the currency. These forged notes are now infinitely more valuable than £10 and once again force a laugh in the face of money and its relationship with art.
A section of the exhibition centres on Banksy’s more interactive pieces such as Dismal Land, a real guerrilla art moment where an effigy of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner was smuggled into Disneyland and ultimately shut down the Rocky Mountain Railroad Ride. You can also find souvenirs from The Walled Off Hotel, an actual hotel in Bethlehem, founded as a non-profit venture by Banksy where tourists can stay which boasts “the worst view in the world”. It pushes the parameters of street art and is a social commentary that brings the discussion literally to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Graffiti is meant to be experienced on the streets, so there is something innately satirical about seeing Banksy’s work in a gallery. The screen prints and paintings have their own stories different from the art he has sprayed across the cities of the world. For example in 2013 Banksy hired an old man to sell his original signed paintings at a street vendor stall in New York. They went for as little as $30 and by the end of the day very few were sold, meanwhile in auction houses these same prints were reaching tens of thousands.
Banksy is a genius of comedy who incites change and provokes rebellion. The exhibition is an excellent way to inform yourself on the work of this modern day hero, rich in material and details. Actress Angela Rafanelli narrates their audio guide on the gallery app to ensure you don’t miss a thing.
Till April 11, 2021
Chiostro del Bramante
Via Arco della Pace, 5 (Centro Storico)
Monday – Friday 9am-8.30pm
From Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm = ticket at 13 euro
From Monday to Friday from 3.15am to 7.30pm = ticket for 15 euro