If you remove a piece of street art from its original location, do you also amputate its artistic value?
That's the question raised by CONTEXT Art Miami this week, which will show Banksy works that were removed from their original locations and shipped to Miami to be seen as part of the lineup of fairs in Midtown.
Yesterday, a Miami Herald story suggested that Banksy disapproves of the inclusion of his works, including Wet Dog and Stop and Search, in the fair. The pieces were removed from their original locations in Bethlehem, and ended up in the hands of New York gallery owner Stephan Kezsler. Though the artist has made no statement concerning this upcoming viewing, he issued a statement of criticism last year when Kezsler exhibited and attempted to sell the thousand-pound blocks of concrete with Banksy's images in New York. At that time, Banksy questioned the authenticity of the pieces, and they did not sell.
This time around, the works in Kezsler's "Banksy out of CONTEXT" exhibit are not for sale. But does that validate the show? It'll still cost money to see them. Tickets to CONTEXT cost between $10 and $20 for the general public, depending on your student or senior status, which means that somebody's profiting on a piece of art that was intended to be enjoyed for free by people on the streets of Bethlehem -- not within the context of a commercial space to be viewed by upscale art dealers and Miami hipsters.
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On the other hand, the works have already been removed from Bethlehem. Even if somebody was willing to front the cost of shipping the concrete blocks back to their home -- a task Kezsler says took "several years and many thousands of dollars" coming the other way -- it's unlikely they could simply be re-installed in their original location. With the damage of relocation already done, are these pieces now worthless? It's unlikely that the Miami art fans who flock to see them, many of whom have never seen a Banksy work in person before, will think so.
The issue is a complex one -- how to honor what remains of these Banksy works without legitimizing the removal of other street art masterpieces. We're looking forward to seeing what the Banksy fans who are in town for Art Basel do: boycott the CONTEXT exhibit, or go see the work of an artist they love.