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Critic’s Notebook: All the Way to the Banksy

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Christopher Smith

The new exhibit at Immersion Vegas is titled BANKSY: Genius or Vandal? If you’re considering spending the $29 to attend, you’ve likely already formed an opinion regarding the famously anonymous guerrilla artist. The actual question this traveling exhibit prompts is about its organizers: Is this a cash grab or a way to share Banksy’s work? This retrospective features prints, originals, posters, vinyl record sleeves, printer plates, and a gift store. Among the designs emblazoned on mugs, mousepads, and T-shirts is a panda with arms outstretched, each hand gripping a gun. This image is notoriously not attributed to Banksy. The artist himself (or herself or themselves) has publicly announced that it is not his work. The organizers either don’t know or don’t care. I reached out to Pest Control, the only service authorized by Banksy to authenticate his work, to find out how many of the pieces in the exhibit they had checked. My inquiry was forwarded to Jo Brooks, Banksy’s publicist, who stated that this show has “absolutely nothing to do with the artist.” It’s not rare for artists’ work to be viewed, reproduced, or sold without their consent. Just ask Kaws, an artist whose limited-edition vinyl sculptures have sold at auction for thousands of dollars (a large piece is on view at The Palms) and are routinely bootlegged around the world. The difference between Banksy and Kaws — or any other artist this happens to — is that when Kaws feels the offense egregious enough, he can pursue legal recourse. Banksy can’t since his work skirts legality. As a longtime Banksy fan, it was meaningful seeing in person the prints I’ve only admired through a screen. But experiencing those anticonsumerist pieces in the wreckage of a Topshop at Fashion Show Mall (still lit by a neon sign with the words “Personal Shopping”), without the artist’s approval, extracts any joy or meaning. Then there’s the wall. An appealing element of the Banksy ethos is that he places his work in public areas, where it can be viewed for free (until it’s defaced or covered up). That’s why it’s supremely disturbing to see a wall decorated with original artwork that was removed by a third party from its primary location and displayed for a fee. Witnessing this at a traveling show that originally charged $7 in Madrid and now charges more than four times that amount in Las Vegas is an irony too powerful to ignore. If you love Banksy, his work, or his mind-set, consider spending your money elsewhere. Veronica Klash

Through April 5, in the Fashion Show Mall

 

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