An unauthorized Banksy exhibition in Seoul has come under fire from visitors disappointed that the vast majority of the works on view were reproductions, rather than original works of art by the anonymous British street artist.
“The Art of Banksy: Without Limits“—which is currently on view in both Seoul and Warsaw—is slated to travel to the U.S. for the first time next month, arriving in Atlanta before heading to Charlotte and Miami. It’s been touring since its 2016 debut in Istanbul, and has visited 11 countries, reportedly attracting over 1 million visitors.
But it has hit a speed bump during its first stop in Asia.
According to promotional materials for the forthcoming U.S. edition, the show includes “more than 110 of the artist’s works, such as his original art, prints on different kinds of materials, photos, sculptures, and much more. Some of his works have even been reproduced with his stencil technique especially for the exhibition.”
But of the 150 artworks on view in Seoul, only 27 are originals, according to the Korea Herald, prompting reviews complaining that “it is a pity that the show did not specify that most of works are replicas.”
“There were some misunderstandings about the exhibition. We are preparing some leaflets that indicate which artworks are original,” Park Bong-su, a senior manager at LMPE Company, the Seoul entertainment agency helping stage the show’s South Korean edition, told the Herald.
The company reportedly sold 25,000 advance tickets, but is now offering refunds for those who no longer wish to attend.
The show does include several original sculptures from Banksy’s 2015 “Dismaland” theme park exhibition in the U.K., as well as authentic prints of Smiling Copper, Consumer Jesus (Christ with Shopping Bags), and Bomb Hugger.
The reproductions include Laugh Now, a mural from the Ocean Rooms club in Brighton, U.K., showing a monkey and the caption “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge.” There is also a version of Banksy’s bathroom, which he decorated with stencils of rats during lockdown in 2020 and shared photographs of online with the note that “My wife hates it when I work from home.”
“Without Limits” is not to be confused with the equally unauthorized “Banksy: Genius or Vandal,” opening next week at a former Urban Outfitters store in downtown Manhattan. That show also has been touring for years, most recently Brussels in June and Los Angeles earlier this month.
A third traveling Banksy outfit, “The Art of Banksy,” has been traversing the globe since its debut in Melbourne in late 2016. Curated by Steve Lazarides, formerly Banksy’s official art dealer, the exhibition proudly trumpets its unauthorized status, and currently claims to showcase $35 million worth of work by the artist.
“This exhibition is a one-off—never will you be able to see this amount of work in one place again,” Lazarides claimed ahead of the initial opening. “Once the show is over, the artwork will dissipate back to the other 40 collectors around the world, and the likelihood of them being brought together again in the future is very slim.”
Presumably, the profitability of the project—it charged $30 per ticket at that inaugural exhibition and has reportedly welcomed more than 750,000 guests to date—changed his mind. It opened in Chicago this month, and is headed to San Francisco in November. (It is produced by Starvox Entertainment, which is also behind “Immersive Van Gogh.”)
By the time the show touched down in Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach in 2018, Lazarides was bragging about how easy it was to reproduce. “You could take this show to every capital city in the world and it could work anywhere. Cab drivers in Karachi know who Banksy is. It could just keep running,” he told Artnet News.
The works in “The Art of Banksy” are all on loan from private collections and are predominantly screen prints—not the illegal graffiti paintings that invariably captivate the internet whenever they pop up in the wild. In Miami, those artworks “looked limp and poster-like on the big warehouse walls,” wrote Artnet News executive editor Julia Halperin.
Recreating some of Banksy’s more famous graffiti works for the exhibition was evidently a way around that problem for the team at “Without Limits.” The exhibition’s website includes the logos for several different companies, including BWO Entertainment, which has offices in New York and London; Expand Entertainment Group, a Saudi Arabian company; and Romanian live entertainment promoters Events. The site also lists Special Entertainment Events (SEE), known for touring shows on topics as varied as King Tut, the Titanic, Star Trek, and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (which returns to New York late next month).
Handling ticket sales is Fever, which is involved with many so-called “experience economy” events—including the “Genius or Vandal” Banksy show in New York. That one is produced by Exhibition Hub, which also partnered with Fever on its “Immersive Van Gogh” knock-off, “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience.” (Earlier this year, the New York Better Business Bureau issued a warning to consumers who might mistake it for the original Van Gogh animated light show popularized by Emily in Paris, and Artnet News critic Ben Davis found it to be the less impressive of the two.)
None of the companies involved responded to inquiries from Artnet News.
The preponderance of shows has not escaped the notice of the artist himself. “Members of the public should be aware there has been a recent spate of Banksy exhibitions, none of which are consensual,” he wrote on his website. “They’ve been organized entirely without the artist’s knowledge or involvement. Please treat them accordingly.”
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