There are a few great artists whose work is instantly recognizable. Most people can identify a Van Gogh or a Monet, and Leonardo Da Vinci has some iconic pieces more recognized for composition than style. But few contemporary artists are recognizable at first sight, with one notable exception: the street artist known as Banksy. Even people with little vested interest in street art or art in general can often recognize a Banksy piece, with his signature bold lines and anti-establishment messages. But due to his preferred method of distributing art at seemingly random, most people are unlikely to see more than one Banksy piece in person in a lifetime, if that. 

But this summer, a specially curated exhibition of some of Banksy’s most iconic pieces of work are coming together for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Art of Banksy will allow art enthusiasts to see pieces from several private collections gathered in one place at one time, unprecedented in the world of Banksy. 

The Art of Banksy

Banksy

This summer, some of Banksy’s most iconic pieces from his 1997-2008 period will be on display in Chicago’s West Loop, for the first and possibly only time ever. Although the exact location within West Loop has not yet been disclosed, tickets went on sale May 6th. 

The Art of Banksy is not organized in collaboration with the artist, but is the result of several private collectors working together to bring this opportunity to art lovers. Included in the collection will be the infamous shredded “Girl with Balloon,” “Flower Thrower,” “Rude Copper,” and more. It will include canvasses, screen prints, sculptures and other mediums.

A press release for the exhibition shares, “Banksy, whose identity is the art world’s biggest secret, is an enigmatic artist and world-recognized political activist. His graffiti-influenced stencil technique, often combined with anti-establishment slogans, is immediately recognizable and never fails to generate immediate attention. Banksy’s works are seen on city walls, bridges and streets throughout the world, but The Art of Banksy offers a rare chance to see a multitude of works in one location. ‘This is a one-of-a-kind exhibition. You will never again have the opportunity to see this many of Banksy’s works in one place. Once the exhibition is over, the artwork will be returned to art collectors around the world, and the chances that they will be displayed together again in the future are extremely slim,’ said Corey Ross, President & CEO, Starvox Exhibits, which is presenting the exhibit alongside [collectiv presents].” 

What We Know About Banksy

Banksy

Despite the fact that he may be the most well-known contemporary artist in the world, not much is known about the enigmatic creator. We do know that Banksy is almost certainly British, and may be from Bristol, where a lot of his art has centered. It’s also suspected that Banksy draws inspiration from French street artist Blek le Rat, known as the father of stencil graffiti.  Banksy will usually create a piece of street art and then drop a cryptic clue or message on social media, creating an instant furor as people seek it out. Banksy loves to hold up a mirror to society to show us our flaws, and the messages behind his pieces are often anti-establishment. Banksy blasts, greed, cruelty, and selfishness. 

Some of his work tackles homelessness, and some tackles pollution. He works mostly in street art, but has also been known to work on canvasses, in sculpture, and brings his signature bold, well-defined lines and exaggerated contrast and colors to every medium. When the artist first began tagging buildings around Bristol, it’s likely that anonymity protected him from the law. Now, however, Banksy pieces are highly sought and often sell for millions of dollars. Banksy doesn’t appear to be happy with his art selling to private owners for so much money, preferring for the public to have access to his pieces. Despite all the speculation and furor over the years, the artist’s identity remains a mystery.

Recent Works by the Artist and How to See The Art of Banksy

Banksy

The pandemic hasn’t slowed the mysterious artist, and his recent work has been focused on reminding people to care for one another. One piece, tagged on the London Underground in July of 2020, was scrubbed off the walls because it violated the strict “no graffiti” policy. The piece showed a rat sneezing, a rat using a mask as a parachute, and another one holding hand sanitizer. Banksy posted a video of himself tagging the art, and hoped to spread a message encouraging people to wear masks. Although they scrubbed the art, TfL encouraged the artist to return and place the art in a more suitable location. So far, he hasn’t taken up their offer.

Another Banksy mural appeared on a house in Bristol in December of last year. The vibrant mural showed an elderly woman sneezing, the spray from her sneeze spreading in front of her and her cane and purse falling behind her. Again, the message seemed to encourage mask-wearing and draw attention to the vulnerability of the elderly to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before being tagged by the piece, Achoo!, the owners of the home were in the process of listing it for sale at around $500K. Once the Banksy piece appeared, however, the house’s value skyrocketed and it may now be worth about $5 million. It’s unclear what happened with the sale, because the owners initially pulled out of it, but in March the piece was cut from the side of the building and removed – to places unknown. It may have been because the house sold and the new owners wanted to cash in on the value of the piece, or were bothered by the nearly 100-a-day visitors who appeared to admire the art. It’s also possible it was moved to preserve it, as the piece received a lot of sun and was fading over the months. Like Banksy, for now it remains a mystery. 

And more recently, a Banksy piece appeared in the foyer of Southampton General Hospital. The piece, titled, “Game Changer,” showed a little boy playing with his favorite superhero – a nurse. An ode to the healthcare workers who kept people alive in impossible conditions over the past year while also dealing with the heartache of the patients they couldn’t save, Game Changer sold for $23.2 million, the proceeds from which went to an NHS charity. 

If you’re going to be in Chicago from July to November, this exhibition is a must see. Tickets are on sale now, $39.99 for adults and $29.99 for children, and the exhibition will run from July 1st to November 28th. 

The press release adds, “Seen by 750,000 people worldwide, The Art of Banksy has already generated excitement in Melbourne, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Auckland and Toronto and rave reviews from critics all around the world. Harper’s Bazaar advised ‘This isn’t one to miss,’ Marie Claire proclaimed it ‘A must see!’ while TimeOutToronto described The Art of Banksy as ‘a welcome reminder of the explosive impact of the artist’s works, and of the powerful potential of street art.’” 

If you want to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, visit banksyexhibit.com for tickets and details.