Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mammoth Art of Banksy retrospective opens in Toronto

Story & photos by Allan Tong

The Art of Banksy opens tonight in what will likely be the art event of Toronto's summer, perhaps the year.

The anonymous British street artist known only as "Banksy" enjoys a lavish retrospective of 80 artworks, almost all of them gallery pieces, with a handful of  works lifted from the streets of east London over the past two decades. The show runs June 13-July 11 at 213 Sterling Road after tonight's private opening party.

The Art of Banksy is a greatest hits package of one of the most successful artists in the world, including the iconic Balloon Girl, Flag Wall (top) and Laugh Now. It showcases riot police with happy faces, sardonic monkees, rioters hurling flowers, and spray-painting rats, which all reflect Banksy's leftist politics.

Fans of the artist will enjoy a smorgasbord of Banksy paintings, reaching back to the turn of the century, with works obscure and famous, as small as greeting cards and as ginormous as Flag Wall, which lives up to its title.

Banksy newbies will be tossed into the deep end. The Art of Banksy is comprehensive, beautiful and fun. It cuts no corners.

Curator and Banksy's former agent and personal photographer, Steve Lazarides, has done an impressive job assembling these works from various collectors. Altogether, the art is valued at $35 million. It's worth hearing his anecdotes on the many video clips that accompany the art, such as the plan to unleash a suitcase of Di-Faced Tenners (above), bogus 10-pound notes, in Liverpool Street Station, east London, or how nobody wanted to pay 100 quid to buy signed Banksy lithographs nearly 20 years ago, which would pay off a mortgage today.

Toronto is the first North American stop for this show, after hitting Melbourne, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and Auckland. Over 40,000 advance tickets have been sold and 10,000 remain available here. The cost isn't cheap but, given its size, comparable to major shows at the AGO and ROM: $35 for adults, and $32.50 for seniors and students. The audio guide is extra, adding more anecdotes from Lazarides and background to the art. It's good, but not essential if you watch the video clips.

Practical tips:
The Art of Banksy takes place at 213 Sterling Road, an industrial building that perfectly suits the street vibe of Banksy's art. But Sterling is in the Junction, which is undergoing a radical transformation from an industrial no man's land into an arts area. Good luck find nearby parking for both cars and bicycles. Expect to park and walk. Landsdowne is the nearest subway station, and the Dundas the closest streetcar. 213 Sterling is roughly equal distance between Dundas/College and Bloor. In other words: expect to walk.

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