Modern Art Exhibit in Florence offers a counterpoint to the Renaissance
Banksy, the perfect metaphor for our time: a prolific, world-famous artist who works anonymously in interchangeable urban spaces, who tells truths and eschews fame, whose messages are at once personal and universal, who speaks to no one and indeed whom nearly no one can identify.
Within this buffer of anonymity, Banksy’s pieces speak truth to power. The medium of graffiti has become legitimate over the years by popular acclaim. And yet, thanks to the dispersed and urban nature of his art, it can be difficult to know and appreciate his art in context. Inside Banksy: Unauthorized Exhibition, in Florence through the end of February, bridges that gap, providing a multimodal experience of the life, work, art, and most importantly, the philosophy of Banksy.
The exhibit’s art and message shine in the setting. Descend the stairs to an industrial underground (Mind the gap!) and don a Banksy VR (virtual reality) headset to walk down streets where Banksy has placed his art. With a buon viaggio you’re off! See where the master has been active in London and Palestine, viewing pieces in 360 degrees as though physically walking through city blocks and gardens. As a VR virgin I was skeptical at first, but was quickly swept into the scene, turning every direction to see the imaginary world through the projection. It’s a perfect example of how Banksy’s art offers a personal experience – universally awakening and sometimes jarring – as we see his images and slogans, poking fun at the very basis of capitalism to market and convince us through attractive art and appealing sound bites.
A smaller station lets visitors spray paint a virtual brick wall using Banksy’s stencils and spray paint. Freestyle if you wish – and snap a picture before it vanishes.
The Immersive Room takes place in the converted sanctuary of the deconsecrated church, digitally mapped to facilitate cinematic projections on every surface. The combination of EDM (electronic dance music) and changing, morphing images of Banksy art in an enormous theater space felt truly transportative. The images, sourced from every phase of Banksy’s careers, ensure that even diehard Banksy fans are certain to see unfamiliar pieces.
Through the canvas screen of the Immersive Room visitors enter a smaller chamber of mirrors on six sides behind the moving kaleidoscope of images. Banksy urges us to examine ourselves, our motives, from every angle, as we see ourselves reflected and refracted. Are we consumers or creators? Are we accepting or critiquing? Do we devour, or examine? Should we ask these questions? Do we want to ask these questions? If not, why?
If every picture tells a story, then each of Banksy’s pieces contain a novel, rich with layers of meaning from decades of observation of the urbanscape and world around him, calling out hypocrisy whenever needed. Banksy helps the viewer to examine their own opinions – not about art in itself, but about the world around us. War and peace, religion and capitalism, police and children, the British monarchy and Parliament, class and racism: it’s all fair game, familiar to anyone.
Banky’s recurring rat motif represents the lowest of human society, worthy only of disgust – but don’t they have truths to tell too? What about monkeys, another repeating motif, dressed up as people or queens, sometimes wearing a sandwich board with an important message? Children become cops, and doves wear bulletproof vests. Revolutionaries throw not Molotov cocktails but bouquets of flowers. Imagine this. See it this way, just for a while. It could be different. Things could be different.
The most arresting images combine well-known photos with capitalist commentary, such as Winston Churchill’s punkish green grass mohawk in Turf War, or the naked My Lai girl being led by Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald. What’s it all worth? Banksy asks. Why are we doing this? Why do we believe any propaganda about terrorism, public safety, CCTV? Why can’t we play in and with the world to make it a better place – better for everyone?
Banksy’s street art offers a kind of transparent user interface, a filter through which to view our own world and our own choices with new eyes, finding a clarity elusive in a world barraged by marketing, information, images, and news. Every image is a message encoded in whimsy and color. Immerse yourself in Banksy for an hour and emerge awakened, jolted, and ready to view your world with new eyes – the real gift art gives us.
UNTIL FEBRUARY 28
Santo Stefano al Ponte – Cattedrale dell’Immagine
Piazza di Santo Stefano 5
Mon-Fri 10am-6:30pm (last entry at 5:30pm)
Sat-Sun 10am-8pm (last entry at 7pm)
Entry Fee: €18