The exhibition Banksy: Genius or Vandal currently being hosted at the IFEMA (institución Ferial de Madrid) until March 3rd this year, examines one of the best known and most polemical living artists in the world today. Containing more than 70 individual pieces that are organised thematically (many of which are being shown in Spain for the first time) the exhibition includes art works, sculptures, installations, videos and photographs drawn from private collections.
It is however not authorised by the author who rarely gives interviews and guards his anonymity fiercely, operating furtively around the globe making artistic interventions inspired by pop culture as well as political and social commentary.
Banksy: Background, identity & inspiration
Banksy first came to prominence at a time when a new generation of British artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst (known as the YBAs) were taking the art world by storm during the mid 1990s. Contrary to these establishment figures Banksy operates on the fringes of the art scene and has divided critics and public alike since gaining recognition. Closely connected to the Bristol underground scene Banksy started out as a freehand graffiti artist working closely within a collective known as DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ) with collaborations between musicians and artists based on social commentary and political activism. Banksy cites graffiti artist 3D, founding member of seminal musical group Massive Attack, as a major influence, and there is a theory that they are one in the same person.
By 2000 Banksy had adopted the stencil style that he is best known for today, a style and approach first championed by French graffiti Blek le Rat, using the urban context and purpose-built supports as his canvas. Initially photographs and reproductions of Banksy’s works were commercialised by the artist but nowadays the installations themselves are regularly resold, which sometimes involves the removal of the surface they are painted on. Most recently Banksy made the headlines with a framed reproduction of his graffiti art work Balloon Girl which on being sold at Sotheby’s auction self destructed via a shredder that had been incorporated within the artwork’s frame.
In 2010 Banksy released the film Exit Through The Gift Shop which was premiered at the Sundance Film festival that year and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary film the following year.
Banksy at IFEMA
Bête noir of the art world, guerrilla artist, provocateur, shameless plagiarist, master self-publicist, visitors are invited to draw their own conclusions about Banksy through the selected works on display at IFEMA. In the words of the exhibition curator Alexander Nachkebiya, director of IQ Art Management, “Banksy has taken on the status of a phenomenon, and is one of the most brilliant and important artists of our time. His work is a challenge to the system, a protest; he has forged his brand with incredible skill, and he is a mystery as he works in disobedience to the law.”
The exhibition is introduced through an impressive 360 degree surround audio-visual installation created especially for this show at the entrance providing clues about this mysterious artist and highlighting his most important pieces as well as framing his unusual career with 28 original art works and 45 limited edition reproductions. As Nachkebiya explains, “his work, which is always fully inserted in present reality and is highly complete, delves into the soul of each one of us. I suppose that all this is what makes him a genius for me.”
The exhibition is being held at the Espacio 5.1 of IFEMA, the same precinct where ARCO takes place yearly usually around the end of February. IFEMA is the capital city’s largest trade fair facility located between the airport and the city centre. The most practical transport option from the city centre is the underground or Madrid Metro, the stop is Feria de Madrid on the L8 line where the exit leaves visitors at the South Entrance to the exhibition complex. L8 connects the city centre with the airport and bus lines 112, 122 and 828.
Banksy: Genius or Vandal can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday, between 10 am to 9 pm. The gallery is closed Mondays except public holidays, long weekends and vacation periods. Entry closes one hour before closing time.
Where to stay
For art lovers visiting Madrid for the first time or for return visitors, either the Principal Hotel Madrid or the Hotel Unico Madrid represent the perfect locations, not just because of their easy access to IFEMA but for their proximity to the classic art repositories of the capital city including the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, Reina Sofia, Caixa Forum etc., all of which are within walking distance of both hotels.