World’s Most Elusive Street Artist Celebrated in Banksy 360º Immersive Art Exhibition – Apartment613
Banksy 360º, the exhibition by the world’s most elusive street artist in the Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park, showcases the groundbreaking work of the anonymous English artist known as Banksy. This unauthorized exhibit was created in collaboration with Bristol, England-based author Marc Everton, who has written a book about Banksy’s work. This is the first major immersive art exhibition featuring a contemporary artist to visit Ottawa and shares the venue with the Van Gogh 360º exhibition. You can visit the Banksy 360º exhibition on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and the Van Gogh exhibition on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Mystery and controversy surround Banksy, an enigmatic English street artist and documentary filmmaker who has never revealed his identity. Many people believe that Banksy is Robin Gunningham, a middle-aged white male artist from Bristol, thanks to compelling evidence compiled by several people. Painting and affixing images to buildings and other public surfaces is vandalism and foul play, which may be one of the reasons the artist has not come forward. “If graffiti changed anything, it would be illegal” is the message embedded in an artwork adorned with rats falling from the sky in small parachutes.
Banksy emerged in the 1990s in Bristol, England, and quickly gained international recognition. He has stealthily created street images accompanied by graffiti in cities around the world, including Toronto. I knew little about Banksy before seeing this exhibition, which offers a revealing insight into the artist’s vision. I left with an admiration for the courage of the artist in expressing ideas, with which I did not always agree or even understand. In the early years of his career, the artist often hid from the police who pursued him while creating works of art. As Banksy satirically puts it, “It takes a lot of courage to stand up anonymously in a Western democracy and call for things no one else believes in like peace, justice and freedom.”
The entrance to the exhibition has several informative panels with useful information about the artist’s activities and works. It includes more well-known works like the girl with the red balloon in the shape of a heart. The voiceovers provide a digitally manipulated voice for the Banksy quotes which gives them an anonymous and slightly ominous quality, while different voices represent quotes from the media and critics.
Banksy relishes taking direct aim at issues like war, consumerism, Britain’s political system including the monarchy, inaction on climate change and societal norms including child abuse. While many of the posts are extremely hard-hitting, Banksy uses dark humor, fantasy and shocking imagery of children, animals like rats and monkeys, and people to make a point. Most of the images are mostly black with muted accents, although some colorful images such as an elephant blending into the wallpaper behind it incorporate bright colors.
Images are presented on a state-of-the-art 9,000 square foot projection imaging space on 16 foot high screens. They are presented in the form of an animated projection image that surrounds you and covers the floor of the exhibition. The images can move from one end of the exhibition to the other, sometimes appearing as a mirror image on opposite walls.
Besides Banksy’s most famous image of the girl with a heart-shaped balloon, notable images included Queen Elizabeth portrayed as an ape, a boy who appeared to be holding his tongue to catch snowflakes that turned out to be toxic waste, two kissing cops, riot police with smiling faces and a worker dismantling a star meant to represent the UK during Brexit. The most memorable animated sequence for me was a group of prehistoric hunters throwing spears at several caddies.
The children had fun running after the pictures on the exhibition floor. Other participants enjoyed posing in front of certain images, such as those giving the impression that they were holding heart-shaped balloons. I guess the visitors hadn’t read the artist’s stern message: “This is not a photo shoot.”
Like Haitian-American street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who rose to prominence in the 1980s, some of Banksy’s works fetch millions of dollars. Never afraid of strong opinions, Banksy even tackled the aesthetics of Canadian design. In an essay posted on his website before it opened in 2014, Banksy described the design of One World Trade Center in New York as “vanilla” and “something they would build in Canada.” Ouch.
Some critics say Banksy’s work is too obvious. Others think he is a put or has sold out. This exhibit does not directly define Banksy as a vandal, charlatan, activist or genius. It’s up to us, kind viewers, to decide for ourselves.
The Banksy 360º exhibition continues four days a week until October 7. Tickets have timed entry and a limited number of attendees are admitted. Buy your tickets here.