The art of Banksy made into an immersive experience

Much of the work will be familiar to people who have followed Banksy since he came to prominence two decades ago, and maybe even to people who haven’t. The collection of original works, assembled by the New York dealer, represents the artist’s greatest hits.

The exhibition “Banksy Was Here” in the Fashion District Philadelphia includes more than 80 works of the artist, presented in an immersive environment that evokes the “Walled Off Hotel” in Palestine. (Emma Lee/WHY)

There is a stencil of a masked man who appears to be throwing a Molotov cocktail which is actually a bunch of flowers – here presented as a framed triptych behind a velvet rope. The girl with the bomb. The riot police had their heads replaced with yellow smiley faces. Many mice, a character that is considered to represent the artist himself.

Zaller gives the rats room.

“Banksy Was Here” recreates parts of “The Walled Off Hotel,” the artist’s long-running exhibition in Bethlehem near Israel’s barrier wall. (Emma Lee/WHY)

“In many cultures, the rat is a trickster who is always hiding in the corner, hiding in the dark,” said Zaller. “It’s a reference back to the artist himself, but the reference is directly to us, you know, in our struggle every day in the rat race we’re in right now.”

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The exhibition space is so large, the galleries staged sometimes overwhelm the art itself. A Victorian room full of wallpaper and faint sofas is partially hung with Banksy works that traffic: men crouching on shopping carts in the savannah with spears, a helicopter wearing a pink bow, a group of punks lining up at a store to buy a T-shirt that reads “Destroy Capitalism.”

A large part of the “Banksy Was Here” exhibition is based on “The Walled Off Hotel,” a long-term art exhibition in Bethlehem near the Israeli barrier wall. (Emma Lee/WHY)

Banksy often refers to his artistic heroes, including Keith Haring, Basquiat, and Andy Warhol. He denigrates popular advertising, such as the RCA logo of a dog named Nipper listening to a phonograph, called “His Master Voice.”

In Banksy’s version, “HMV,” a dog points a bazooka at a speaker.

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“It forces us to look at our social structure from a different perspective,” Zaller said. “We are very used to visuals, we are very used to advertising, we accept things as we see them. Banksy doesn’t do that. When you look at his work, it changes your perspective a little bit.”

“Banksy Was Here” features a re-creation of a room Banksy created for the Walled Off Hotel, a spoof of the Waldorf Hotel which is a real boutique hotel operating in Bethlehem in the West Bank. The dining room has tablecloth tables, a wall of security cameras mounted on taxidermy plaques, and a defunct piano.

A large part of the “Banksy Was Here” exhibit is based on “The Walled Off Hotel,” the artist’s long-running exhibit in Bethlehem near Israel’s barrier wall. (Emma Lee/WHY)

“We left it inactive on purpose,” said Zaller. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for people who play tickle the ivories a little bit.”

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People are invited to sit on the furniture, play the piano, and try their hand at graffiti in a room with 1500 square feet of blank white wall panels and dozens of paint marks.

Visitors will be able to leave their mark at the end of the “Banksy Was Here” exhibition, which offers paint and 1500 square meters of blank wall space. (Emma Lee/WHY)

As in the title of the self-produced documentary about Banksy and his critique of the commercialization of the art world, “Exist Through the Gift Shop,” the last room of the exhibit is a gift shop of Banksy-related merchandise for sale.

“Banksy Was Here” is scheduled to run until the end of January, but – like Van Gogh – will be added if sales prove strong. Zaller said the Exhibition Hub has leased space within the Fashion District beyond January 2023, with plans to showcase more focused exhibitions currently in development.

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