"Flower Thrower" at BanksyLand

Temporarily joining the more... novice... collection of street art and graffiti tags scattered along SE Madison St. is a traveling collection of more than 100 works from the undoubtedly most well-known (yet simultaneously nameless) street artist Banksy. Even if you don’t know the moniker, you’ve more than likely seen the work—whether it be in the shape of a rat stenciled on your office building by a Banksy impersonator, a rip-off Redbubble print, or an authentic Banksy-tagged stop sign that once lived on a street corner and is now on display at an unauthorized exhibition in Southeast Portland's Factor Building.

BanksyLand—which kicked off in PDX late last month, and will tour the country for the rest of the year—is an exhibit unaffiliated with the reclusive street artist. If you can get past the irony of buying a $29 ticket ($59 for a commemorative poster and guided tour) to see the work of someone who intentionally avoids the highbrow art scene or profiting from his work at all (his “Girl With Balloon” began to shred itself after being sold at a 2018 auction), it's a pretty cool way to spend an afternoon.

A print of "Girl with Balloon" at BanksyLand

Banksy’s oftentimes politically motivated street art gained international notoriety in the early 2000s. Some of his more famous works include “NOLA,” a stencil of a young girl holding an umbrella in the rain, created after Hurricane Katrina; “Flower Thrower,” a 2003 piece which appeared in Bethlehem after the construction of the West Bank Wall; and Dismaland, an apocalyptic theme park clearly modeled after Disneyland, a.k.a. the “epitome of capitalism” (as per my tour guide). All are on display at BanksyLand in some capacity. Banksy’s identity has remained a secret—an impressive feat that apparently does occur outside of Pretty Little Liars—initially to avoid jailtime (graffiti is, in fact, illegal) but now adding to his “down with the man, capitalism sucks, art should be for the people, by the people” message. Because of this, all Banksy installations are technically unauthorized, and unaffiliated with the artist himself. The good ones, like BanksyLand, are the ones that are clearly just paying homage to the artist the only way they know how.

BanksyLand is mostly a combination of blown-up photos of Banksy’s work and Banksy-inspired installations: Dismaland appears in a video, and “Flower Thrower” has been reimagined as a large golden sculpture. The real stars of the show, however, are the few authenticated-by-Banksy's-team pieces, borrowed from lucky art collectors, including the original aforementioned rat-stenciled stop sign, ”Slow Rat.” Rats, in fact, abound at BanksyLand, including “Circuit Rats,” two rats stenciled on a circuit-board sign, and my personal favorite, “Love Rat,” about which an onlooker at my visit said, “I want this in my house.” Me too, queen.

A briefcase of Banksy's "Di-Faced Tenners"

Other than the sweet little paint-brush-holding rat, the best pieces on display at BanksyLand are the blatantly ironic ones. You don’t have to be an art expert to pick up on the sardonically placed pink bow atop the war copter in “Happy Choppers,” or the smiley-faced grim reaper in “Wrong War.” Another piece, which definitely needed introduction (which I got from the VIP guided tour) was a steel briefcase filled with bills plastered with a headshot of Princess Diana giving side-eye. Apparently, Banksy printed these before throwing them out into the audience of an art gallery, attempting to circulate them and create his own currency—underlining the fundamental uselessness of money in the process.

BanksyLand Portland will be open until this Sunday, May 8, and we suggest you check it out. Maybe even take your mom as a Mother’s Day gift—she’ll especially love the inspirational Banksy quotes lining the walls, including the  made-me-snort, “One original thought is worth 1000 meaningless quotes.”  You’ll definitely learn something you didn’t know about Banksy before, will possibly be inspired by his pre-Trump era artistic premonitions, and will definitely be amazed at the stuff this guy’s been able to pull off.

BanksyLand

Through May 8, $29–59, The Factor Building

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