Banksy Universe Was Never Pre-Approved

April 26, 2024

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By 

Chad Rialp

The Metropolitan Museum of Manila’s (MMM) announcement of its upcoming exhibit, “Banksy Universe Manila 2024,” sparked uproar among netizens. On the surface, the production aims to showcase the works of the enigmatic street artist Banksy, offering Filipino audiences a closer look at his creations.

However, a key detail merits debate. The exhibit is not authorized by Banksy himself, as confirmed by his exclusive licensing company, Pest Control Office. In fact, they expressly state the artist “is not involved or associated with” any of the different exhibitions of his work worldwide. The Museum also acknowledges this in its press release, stating it aligns with the artist’s history of remaining unaffiliated with official exhibitions.

This raises questions about the legitimacy and purpose of such an exhibit. Proponents argue it provides a valuable opportunity to learn about Banksy’s art and its social and political commentary. Opponents are quick to point out the irony of showcasing Banksy’s work in a museum and how it contradicts his anti-establishment message. Banksy’s art thrives in unconventional spaces, challenging the authority of traditional art institutions like MMM. Additionally, some question the ethics of profiting from the work of an artist who actively rejects commercialization.

Further complicating the situation is the involvement of Bonifacio Global City (BGC) as a partner. BGC’s stance against unsanctioned street art has drawn criticism from the local art community. This perceived dissonance between promoting a commercialized version of street art and restricting genuine artistic expression fuels the debate.

Beyond the Controversy: Accessibility, Dialogue, and Reinterpretation

However, there are alternative perspectives to consider. Despite being an unauthorized exhibit, it still presents an opportunity to introduce Banksy’s art and social commentary. Especially to a wider Filipino audience who might not otherwise encounter it. This broader accessibility could spark valuable public discourse about the ethics of unauthorized exhibits, the value of street art, and the role of museums in presenting challenging art. It’s also interesting to note that Pest Control neither condemned or condoned Banksy Universe, choosing to simply disassociate themselves from it.

A biting commentary from artist Tarantadong Kalbo (taken from his Facebook page).

Furthermore, you could argue that the controversy surrounding the exhibit is part of the commentary. By presenting Banksy’s work within the very institution he critiques, the exhibit forces viewers to confront his ideas within a new context. Perhaps the “unauthorized” nature of the exhibit becomes part of the artistic statement. Is this the commercialization of rebellion?

A Wider Conversation

The museum setting could also be seen as a platform for Banksy’s message to reach a new audience. Exposure to his work, even in a non-traditional format, could inspire a new generation of Filipino street artists, echoing Banksy’s original spirit of DIY public commentary. Additionally, Banksy himself is infamous for his unpredictability.

On one hand, “Banksy Universe Manila 2024” presents a unique opportunity to engage with the work of a significant contemporary artist. On the other, the unauthorized nature of the exhibit and the involvement of BGC raise questions about its alignment with Banksy’s artistic philosophy. Either way, we can’t just ignore the potential for broader accessibility, public discourse, and even unforeseen artistic outcomes. The true impact of the exhibit will likely depend on its execution and the conversations it sparks about art, authority, and social commentary.

Where do you stand?

Image sourced from WikiCommons.

Read more: Artwashing: How States Sweep the Dirt Under the Canvas

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