What would Banksy think of people paying to see his work? We asked his former agent

It may be put on by some of the biggest names in the promotion world, but the curator of a new exhibit spotlighting the ultra anti-capitalist Banksy insists the artist would prefer his work be on display than stored away in a collector’s basement.

Curated by one of Banksy’s former agents, Steve Lazarides, The Art of Banksy — a $35-million exhibit consisting of 80 of the artist’s original works — debuts in Toronto this week on Sterling Road, the first stop in a larger North American run.

And it’s not endorsed by the artist himself. 

But while Banksy’s work is decidedly anti-establishment, spray-painted on the surfaces of cities and public spaces, this exhibit isn’t free and instead comes with a ticket price of $35, charged by Live Nation and Starvox Exhibits.

Steve Lazarides, curator of The Art of Banksy. (George Whiteside)

So what would the staunchly political artist think of people having to pay to see his work?

‘Now the general public can see it’

With Banksy’s actual identity a secret, Lazarides offers this response to that question:

“At the end of the day, everything that was here was sold commercially at some point; the prints were sold, the paints were sold,” Lazarides told CBC Toronto’s Dwight Drummond.

The Art of Banksy (David Donnelly/CBC)

“He’s done exhibitions over the years. And in his heart of hearts, I think he’d rather have people looking at his work rather than it being mothballed in some warehouse somewhere. And that’s where a lot of it was … Now the general public can see it,” he said.

The Art of Banksy (David Donnelly/CBC)

“People having to pay to get in, I think if this was a Basquiat exhibition, people wouldn’t even ask that question. I think he’s on that kind of level nowadays and it costs a lot of money to put this kind of thing together.”

The Art of Banksy (David Donnelly/CBC)

And its appeal, says Lazarides, is general too, with what he calls a simple message whose appeal goes beyond “kids in backpacks age 25, working in the graphics industry.” The magic of Banksy, he argues, is that you don’t need an art degree to understand it.

The exhibit comes on heels of perhaps an even more unlikely display of Banksy’s work: an open-air show in one of the cities ritziest and richest neighbourhoods, Yorkville. That show, however, was free.

The Art of Banksy (David Donnelly/CBC)

‘A specific location for a reason’

But the placement of those pieces, along an upscale shopping strip home to labels like Chanel and Prada, is something Lazarides says is squarely out of step with the artist’s intent.

The Art of Banksy (David Donnelly/CBC)

“I’m really opposed to it because the artist put those pieces on the street in a specific location for a reason. And for the whole population of the city to enjoy,” he said.

Whether either exhibit would receive Banksy’s blessing, Lazarides says he hopes that being able to get up close to the artist’s work will inspire audiences to “get political.”

The Art of Banksy (David Donnelly/CBC)

Including sculpture, screen prints, paintings and even some commercial work done for the music industry, he says the audience can expect “a little bit of everything.” And that may well be part of the appeal.

“Hopefully they come in and get inspired.”


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