At the Magic City Studio, current home of the controversial "Art of Banksy" exhibit, a scruffy man in board shorts uses his smartphone to snap a picture of the artist’s Rude Copper piece. He observes the walls of the exhibit before taking successive shots of Gangsta Rat, Barcode, and Girl with Balloon, a screen print of the same painting that caused a ruckus on the internet back in October.
In the next room, a young couple smiles as a security guard takes their picture with Flying Copper, a cutout of a police officer in full riot gear with a yellow smiley face and angel wings. They thank the security guard and step away from Flying Copper as a different man in a fedora trains his smartphone lens on the piece.
Despite the use of the artist's name in its title, "The Art of Banksy" is displaying the enigmatic artist’s work without his consent. In fact, the artist recently issued a "product recall" of unauthorized exhibits around the world, specifically calling out the Miami show.
This is but a minor concern to patrons. After all, this is their chance to see Banksy’s work up close and personal.
“I don’t think I’ll ever have the chance to see so many in one place,” guest Christina Ojeda said as she was exiting the exhibit with her teenage son. “I don’t really travel the world enough to run into one.”
Ojeda is a fan of the artist. She admits that the exhibit comes off as “anti-Banksy” but thinks it might be her only opportunity to experience the artist’s work.
This is the conundrum presented to the street artist’s cult following. Any fan of Banksy’s anti-capitalist/anti-establishment art would jump at the opportunity to see his work in person. But does paying a minimum of $35.99 for a ticket go against what the artist stands for?
“I’m happy to pay to see his work because I’ve never had the opportunity to see it in real time,” said guest Tony Willsher, a silver-haired gentleman who hails from Banksy’s native England but has called South Florida his home for the last three years. “It’s on television anyways, another media format which I’m already paying for.”
A self-described “ten-out-of-ten” Banksy fan, Willsher sees nothing wrong with "The Art of Banksy" exhibitors charging patrons to view the elusive street artist’s work. “Unless Banksy invites me to know where his art is going to be at any one moment, how else am I going to see it? A picture of it is always in the paper, always on the internet, always on the television. It’s just another form of media which I’m already paying for.”
Like Willsher, many of the guests who are familiar and even sympathize with Banksy’s political agenda don’t mind paying the price of admission if it means a better understanding of the artist.
“I’m familiar with his works in Palestine, so I wanted to see what art exhibits he had here,” said Ruba Kanaan, a bubbly young woman of Arabic descent. “As a fan, of course, I would love to save more money but I am willing to pay because it’s worth the money.”
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One of Kanaan's friends clutches a heart-shaped balloon similar to the one in Banksy’s Girl with Balloon, a souvenir referencing an artist who hates souvenirs. But how much did it cost?
“It was free,” she smiles.
Hey, at least the balloon was free.