Banksy: Cut and Run exhibition review

“Love him or loathe him, it is impossible to ignore Banksy,” said Mark Brown in The Daily Telegraph. Although he himself has somehow managed to preserve his anonymity, the mysterious graffiti artist’s work has become “as recognisable (and as saleable)” as anything created by Andy Warhol or Keith Haring.

As such, this retrospective at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, his first authorised institutional solo show since 2009, is “a big deal”. The exhibition – subtitled “25 Years Card Labour: An Exhibition of Stencils” from 1998-2023 – is a grab-bag of Banksy’s work going back to the 1990s, when he first dabbled in graffiti.

Along the way, it gives us versions of many of his most emblematic pieces – from the “stencilled ants” that were an early signature to the famous Girl With Balloon, a work which unexpectedly shredded itself “within seconds of it being sold at Sotheby’s” – and surprising curios aplenty. This “beautifully put together” show will leave you in no doubt that Banksy is “an artist of remarkable invention and humour” – and one of “lasting importance”.

This is perhaps the first time that the “Scarlet Pimpernel of modern art” has shed real light on his operation, said Alison Rowat in The Herald. The first thing we see on entering is one of Banksy’s desks, surrounded by some of the stencils he has used to create his “landmark” works. Stencils (or cards) are the key to how he has avoided arrest and guarded his anonymity, allowing him to do the bulk of the work in his studio and minimise the time it takes to leave his mark on a wall. As the artist says: “Monet had light, Hockney has colour, I’ve got police response time.”

Room-sized installations give us a sense of Banksy’s mischievous personality, too. We see a mock-up of his teenage bedroom, complete with “posters of The Specials and a collection of catapults”. There’s “a giant strip cartoon explaining how the boy Banksy came to be the artist he is today”. “Why can’t you draw something nice? Like flowers?” says his mum. “Definitely her exact words,” Banksy adds.

Banksy is “a master of the visual one-liner”, said Susan Mansfield in The Scotsman. The first-person wall texts give us an amiable, personalised guided tour through his greatest hits, including now-classic images such as “the youth hurling the bunch of flowers”, “the bobbies kissing” and “the heart which turns ‘Vote leave’ into ‘Vote love’”.

The Banksy who emerges from this show is “a practical joker with a conscience rather than a purveyor of incisive political commentary”, and you can’t help but warm to him. Nevertheless, removed from its original context, his work can often feel rather inert.

“Interesting” as this exhibition is, it ultimately feels “just a little bit empty. This is a museum of Banksy. The real thing is out in the streets.”

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow ( Until 28 August


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