‘Banksy’ is here, but not everybody in the Minneapolis art community is happy about it

Barbara Merkley

In a large warehouse in northeast Minneapolis, visitors are invited to zig-zag down a winding hallway, following a trail of red dots on the floor to a series of galleries. The walls are black, with snarky anti-capitalist quotes printed in white. There’s even a selfie-friendly photo op at the end.

Hot on the heels of the “Immersive Van Gogh” spectacle comes “The Art of Banksy,” a touring exhibit of work by the pseudonymous English street artist, activist and prankster.

The unauthorized show, opened Thursday by the company behind “Van Gogh” in the same northeast Minneapolis space, features roughly 100 of Banksy’s canvases, screen prints, sculptures and one-offs, drawn from private collections.

All told, the works are valued at more than $35 million, says Starvox Entertainment.

It’s not a cheap ticket, either — $35-$45 for adults, $30-$35 for children, depending on the day and time. That’s more than double the cost of a special exhibition at the otherwise free Minneapolis Institute of Art, while Walker Art Center charges $15 for adults. And VIP/premium packages to the show range up to $100.

“We are not a museum,” said Starvox founder Corey Ross. “We’re not publicly funded. So there is a cost to bringing these shows to town, and that’s reflected in the ticket price.”

Twin Cities culture workers have mixed feelings about these kind of events. Northeast Minneapolis artist Amy Rice, for one, is not a fan — especially since “The Art of Banksy” opens just a week before the neighborhood’s popular Art-a-Whirl weekend.

“Banksy expressly does not approve [of the show]. The exhibition is taking place in the Northeast Arts District during Art-a-Whirl, the largest art crawl in North America and our first real one in three years, at a time when the arts have been hit so hard.”

Others, though, see an opportunity to draw potential art lovers to Northeast who don’t typically go to museums or galleries.

The touring show, billed as “the largest Banksy exhibition ever assembled,” has popped up in Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Phoenix and Nashville. It features many of his most recognizable works, including “Girl With Balloon,” a copy of which automatically shredded itself after being sold at auction for $1.4 million in 2018. (In true Banksy form, he explained that he built a shredder into the frame in case it ever got sold at auction.)

“I was watching a commercial for [the show] the other day and it felt like I was watching an advertisement for a liquidation sale for a furniture company — ‘Sunday Sunday Sunday!’ — and at the end, quickly, it was like: ‘Not authorized by the artist,'” said Ginger Porcella, director of Franconia Sculpture Park.

“Cool, I mean: Let’s do a show that the artist hasn’t even signed off on, make a ton of money off of it, and not even compensate the artist. … It’s not about art education or audience engagement. It’s strictly a moneymaking endeavor.”

Some artists worry that the show may take away potential business from local artists with studios nearby.

“There’s a big difference between going to see an artist … at a show like that — where you’re fed kind of entertainment — versus coming to our open studios where we all live and work,” said Carmen Gutierrez-Bolger, a former president of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA), which stages Art-a-Whirl.

“This is our bread and butter.”

To these criticisms, Ross of Starvox sees another answer.

“I believe that the tide rises. So the more we get people interested in arts, and the more arts events there are, the more opportunities there are for local artists,” he said. “I don’t think when a Broadway theater show comes to town that in any way hurts the local theater scene. I think it is important for artists to see other artists.”

A pro-Banksy faction, too

Despite all of Banksy’s anti-capitalist and anti-art market rhetoric, there’s not total opposition to the exhibit in the art community.

Photographer Nik Linde, who has a studio at Casket Arts in Northeast, does believe the steep admission charge is “maybe” hypocritical but feels generally supportive of the show.

“I think it is cool,” he said. “This isn’t New York, so for Minnesotans I think the show is a good chance to see stuff like this.”

Other artists in the neighborhood see the Banksy show as a way to drive traffic to Northeast.

“As I said about the ‘Immersive Van Gogh’ show, I hope that visitors to the Banksy show realize how close they are to a whole range of other art experiences right in the neighborhood, especially during Art-A-Whirl weekend,” said Russ White, whose studio is also at Casket Arts.

Lighthouse Immersive, the company that operates these art shows in various cities — including an “Immersive Frida Kahlo” that hasn’t arrived here yet — recently joined NEMAA as a gallery member.

“Art-a-Whirl is 26 years old now,” said painter Susan Wagner, also a former NEMAA president. “A lot of the businesses are more than happy to catch the wave of the crowds that come to Northeast, and we’ve never been able to control that. So that’s sort of the-good-with-the-bad part.”

The Art of Banksy
When: Open Thursdays-Mondays.
Where: 1515 Central Av. NE., Mpls.
Tickets: $30-$100. banksyexhibit.com/minneapolis

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