Exit Through the most run-of-the-mill Gift Shop

By Rhea Karan

The year 2016 has witnessed the introduction of unauthorized Banksy exhibits in two of Amsterdam’s most notable museums: the Beurs van Berlage and the Moco Museum. The former boasts of the largest collection of the unidentified yet widely acclaimed artist’s work, and the Boomerang paid a visit to watch his works come to life.

Banksy, an English-based street graffiti artist, gained international acclaim with his satirical depictions of society, politics and popular culture. The underground artist’s work explores themes of pacifism, anarchism and anti-capitalism. Despite having achieved international success, Banksy’s identity remains unknown, and the anonymity which accompanies his work serves only to intensify the ideals behind his creations.

Several aspects of the exhibit struck me as blatantly ironic, negating everything Banksy’s art seeks to address. A single one of his works, Destroy Capitalism, derides anyone who attempts to sell revolution, and can be used to tarnish the entire concept behind the exhibit. For one, the entry price of 20 euros can hardly be considered exorbitant, but is completely contradictory to his anti-capitalist ideals. Banksy’s documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” ridicules materialism and challenges insatiable human greed. The exhibit presents the greatest irony when it actually leads you out through one of the most run-of-the-mill gift shops. You may argue that this is an instrument of satire, deliberately positioned to ridicule consumerism- but this can hardly be so judging by the price tags on the mementos.

The greatest appeal of Banksy’s work is its accessibility to the public and street value. The juxtaposition of Steve Jobs over a refugee camp in Calais, France; the Flower Bomber in the area of the gay parade in Jerusalem- the moment you take the piece out of context, its counterculture implications are lost. There is no street appeal in looking at gilded framed paintings within the comfort of a bougie, air-conditioned museum with tuxedo-clad employees offering you a choice between sparkling or still– it just doesn’t get the message across.

Save for the fact that the only other place one can see such a large collection of Banksy’s work is on the Internet, the exhibition has no real merit. Banksy’s website explicitly states that he is not associated with his former curator, Steve Lazaridus, who is in charge of the show. It was great to see paintings that I had only seen on screen come to life- bringing to light some aspects that I had overlooked. However, if you want to see Banksy in his element- raw, sincere, and compelling- well then, you came to the wrong place; you’re just reinforcing the satire.

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