For reasons best kept private between myself and the fantastic surgeons and medical staff at University College London Hospital, Graffoto has only just scraped into Banksy’s “Cut and Run” exhibition in the last week of its 10 week run, not that anyone needed this review before deciding whether or not to attend.
The ground floor of the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow has been taken over by a huge retrospective of some of Banksy’s greatest hits, 78 pieces in total (this number keeps revising upward!). Check our comprehensive list and be super relieved you didn’t waste your time if your favourite isn’t there.
Banksy sprung the exhibition on the unsuspecting public with zero notice, a modus operandi he employed for his 2009 “Banksy v. Bristol Museum and Gallery” show. What does he get out of that secrecy you may wonder, perhaps it’s that with advance notice bloody bloggers and other such obsessives would be staking out the gallery spawning rumours identifying every male of a certain age entering the building as Banksy. His shows always operate at capacity so no advance notice is required and the marketing budget must be next to zero.
A few years ago Banksy’s former manager Steve Lazarides put on a show of Banksy prints at Sotheby’s in London and since then a huge industry of un-authorised mediocre travelling shows of Banksy’s art have sprung up. Re-imagined 3D sculptures derived from a Banksy image on paper, what kind of uninspired insipid diminished art experience is that? This has pissed Banksy off, as evidenced by his Q&As which were basically a warning not to go to those shows. Cut and Run is Banksy’s official retrospective based on his street art rather than his indoor commercial stuff and it wipes the wall with those rip off copycats.
The majority of the art pieces comprise battle scared stencils imaginatively staged to recreate familiar Banksy images going right back to his earliest stencil pieces. Converting stencils into viable exhibition worthy pieces of art has required some augmentation. Stencils of the black layer of images have had a light coat of white or grey to define the black and outline the rest of the image. Check the dual aura of white and black around the edge of the stencil image illustrating the cover of the show book, a good example.
There are also stencilled artworks as opposed to stencils turned into artworks and almost every installation or piece of art is accompanied by pithy text in the classic Banksy vein.
If you are find that this review is a bit light on photos of art from the exhibition you are right. Photography was not allowed in the exhibition and the photographs appearing in the press were press agency copyright images. A motley crew of gallery attendants were on hand to take polaroid snaps using a weak built-in camera flash, consequently we have here a selection of dim photos, dull photos and some photos from the distant past. Cheers Banksy.
The exhibition layout is essentially two meandering passages connected by a larger hall in the middle and at the end you exit through the gift shop (of course) which then spits you out in a passage of thousands of multi coloured tags. The show starts with a reconstruction of part of Banksy’s studio, seemingly a stencil cutting station. The final installation is a reconstruction of Banksy’s bedroom.
If you expect vandal paraphernalia and anarchist regalia then the actual bedroom may surprise you with its conventionality. Lots of militaria, budget toiletries and the Prodigy’s Jilted Generation double LP displaying its inner sleeve kill-the-bill rave fantasy illustration by Les Edwards. As that album was released in 1994 this would suggest either Banksy is younger than we imagined, 1974 is often cited as a possible year of birth, or the bedroom is that of someone on the cusp of their 20s whose décor hadn’t kept step with their emergence into young adulthood.
The exhibition is way more than the widely reported stencil retrospective, a couple of pieces had not been seen before in public and both have interesting stories. One quirky installation comprises a collection of oil paintings by a painter named in the show as Pete Brown. In February this year Banksy created a piece known as Valentine Day Mascara in the seaside town Margate. There was an artist on hand painting the scene in oil on board and making a nice job of it. 5 oil paintings seen in Margate aare on display along with the stencil of the woman and the legs, Banksy explains that he believes the pageant that develops around the art in the street is as significant as the art itself.
If Pete Brown turned out to be an untraceable pseudonym that would have been bog standard Banksy subterfuge but Peter Brown aka “Pete The Street” is a proper proper artist with an impressive cv and a website that makes no reference to Banksy, a sure fire indicator of someone who has worked for Banksy.
Another new work, or at least one being seen in “real life” for the first time, depicts a rat and a couple of spray cans which previously appeared on the film set in Bristol for the TV series The Outlaws. The press had a field day at the time with the “controversial” buff by Christopher Walken but this was no disturbed actor tantrum, that was what was scripted and Banksy contributed the image in celebration of a programme made in his sometime home town. Curiously this painting is not reproduced in the book.
Comparatively early in his career Banksy was already writing books, “Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall” was published in 2001 and the text notes accompanying the art in Cut and Run are as important as part of the art as the stencil and imagery. In some instances the imagery seems to be there to support the delivery of a well written, witty, pithy and often self-deprecating story. The display of the storyboard, a painting and an animation cell from Banksy’s couch sequence opening to The Simpsons in 2010 is a perfect example, setting up to his brilliant “racist hat crime” punchline.
It seems obligatory to describe this show as Banksy’s first solo exhibition for 14 years. So what the heck was the 2019 “Gross Domestic Product” in Croydon if it wasn’t a solo show?
Another stencil which had a spectacular amount of additional painting was the main one used to create “Basquiat Stop and Search”, one of a pair of tributes put up in a tunnel under London’s Barbican Centre on the eve of the opening of the 2017 Basquiat retrospective. The image on the street is possibly the most painterly illegal Banksy street art ever and the image deserved this colourful exhibition treatment. At a Banksy exhibition amusement and intrigue is a decent presumption, discarding mental imagery and eventually finding out what a “Johnny pump” was possibly the least expected revelation!
Content wise this show contains a lot of Banksy humour, huge dollops of the trademark anti authoritarian humour, lots of great anecdotes told with typical Banksy impish wit and as you would expect plenty of politics. Banksy the thrower of light onto political murk highlights so many issues and causes including Arab-Israeli tensions, the environment, anti-war protest, racism, child exploitation, the refugee crisis, Ukraine, consumerism, Brexit, gentrification all present and correct.
In revealing a bit more of how the magician does his tricks Cut and Run has echoes of what Banksy achieved with the 2008 Cans Festival group show in which the public spray area invited anyone and everyone (except paste up and freehand spraycan artists!) to cut a stencil and release their inner outdoor artist. The exhibition shows the comparative simplicity of Banksy’s craft, we see the tools, the stencils and the end results. The real genius however lies in the inspiration and the execution and here Banksy is leagues ahead of everyone else.
Banksy’s mystery is in no way diminished by this show, the exhibition is personality not persona, after the show no one is any none the wiser about Banksy’s identity and you already knew Banksy is the coolest artist in town.
Sirens Of The Lambs video, Banksy, New York 2013
“Cut and Run” Banksy solo exhibition
Gallery Of Modern Art, Glasgow
18th June – 28th August 2023
All Photos: Dave Stuart except where otherwise credited