Should You Pay Money to Look at Graffiti? Banksy Doesn’t Think So.

<a target="_blank" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/janslangen/5556327199/">Jan Slangen</a>/Flickr

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Featuring works by graffiti artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey, the “Art in the Streets” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles has been billed by its curators as “the first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art.” The exhibit has drawn record attendance for the museum, each one garnering a $10 general admission fee.

The irony that a museum is charging people money to look at an art form that is usually seen for free hasn’t been lost on Banksy, who stepped in to sponsor free admission to the exhibit every Monday until the show closes on August 8. “I don’t think you should have to pay to look at graffiti. You should only pay if you want to get rid of it,” Banksy told MOCA’s Curve blog. But his statement reveals a conflict of interest that has marked his career from the beginning: The artist, whose graffiti works already sell for upwards of $200,000 at elite art houses like Sotheby’s, will undoubtedly benefit financially from the exhibit.

A well-known British street artist who keeps his identity secret to evade several arrest warrants for vandalism (and possibly to further his intrigue), Banksy is known for being a contradictory figure whose antics often teeter between the serious and the absurd. Watching his 2010 documentary, Exit Through the Giftshop, and reading about the hype surrounding the film’s Oscar nomination, you have to wonder: Just who is Banksy trying to prank?

Banksy made a name for himself by glamorizing his rebel status as he mocked the art establishment. In the beginning, it was a rebellious—and gleeful—artist’s statement when his art appeared in a museum, as it did when he pranked the Louvre and stuck his own framed artwork on its walls when guards weren’t watching. (See video below.) Now, as legitimate and sanctioned museum pieces, his work has become a lucrative part of the elite art world at which he thumbs his nose. Was this his point all along? Banksy’s elusiveness makes it hard to find an answer, so we’re left wondering, “Now that he’s been welcomed into the museum, what’s next for Banksy?”

 

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.