Milan’s Mudec is hosting Banksy’s exhibition. This statement is, by all means, wrong. “A visual protest. The Art of Banksy”, on show until April 14th, is not a Banksy exhibition, it has not even been authorised by the artist as a matter of fact. The show, curated by Gianni Mercurio, focuses on the style, the techniques and the contents of Banksy’s works, supplying a lot of explanations since, even though the visual impact is very strong, the background of several pieces is often strictly connected to British culture and therefore hard to decipher for foreigners. The intent of the exhibition is deliberately academic, more of a lesson on communication and visual techniques than an art show per se, although some of Banksy’s artistic creations, courtesy of private collectors, are nonetheless displayed. This does not make the exhibition less important, especially in Italy. Let’s analyse why.
First of all, let us not forget that Mudec (Museo delle culture, literally Museum of cultures) is not an art gallery: like the name suggests, it is a space dedicated to cultures, in this case subcultures, and their contribution to society. Therefore, it makes only sense that this specific exhibition should not simply focus on Banksy’s art but more on the technique and the means of communication used by a master of street art to stage, as the name suggests, a visual protest.
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In addition to this, in order to better understand the purpose of the exhibition, it could be worth analysing the controversial relationship between Italy (especially Milan) and street art. On one hand street artists are constantly hunted down, always on the run (a famous Milanese writer, 29 years old, was forced to fled to China in order to avoid incarceration) and accused of ruining the urban décor; on the other hand, local administrations often turn to them and to their artistic interventions in order to requalify particularly deteriorated areas (it is the case of the artist known as Millo and his authorised work in the city of Turin).
Banksy has never renounced his illegal status, he actually enhanced it by keeping also his identity secret (still today no one knows who he is, even though speculations of all sorts are regularly brought to the news, including the one of Banksy being the frontman of the British band Massive Attack). His name remained unknown also when he took over the chic Lower East Side in New York, or when he ventured Gaza: far from turning him into an outcast, this has created an aura of mystery and secrecy which led him into becoming a sort of popular hero. And if Italy feels compelled to persecute street artists as law breakers, it cannot – and does not want to – ignore heroes, especially when they are capable of such marvellous artistic creations and such amazing self-branding that they should ideally be invited to give university lectures.
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Street artists don’t like being in museums, nor in private collections. They create their work for the streets and in the streets they should remain. Bolognese writer Blu accepted several commissions from the city for the city, including some which clashed with his style. But he personally cancelled his best works from the walls when he acknowledged that some of them were going to be moved into a gallery. Banksy recently created a picture which shredded itself just after having been auctioned for 1.4 million dollars at Sotheby’s. For this reason, an exhibition which focuses on the technical aspects of Banksy’s work and on the power of street art, is probably more appropriate - and more respectful of the artist’s will - than a purely artistic display, as it would be slightly hypocritical to fight street artists on a daily basis and at the same time pay a huge tribute to the most outlaw of them all. What still needs to be understood is why did Banksy not authorise the exhibition in Milan while he did curate one himself some time ago in Birmingham. But probably this is simply another demonstration of how ambiguous and complicated the relationships between street artists and institutions are bound to be. Best thing to do: personally check out the exhibition and make your own opinion.
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