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Miami's annual high-profile art market Art Basel kicks off today. And one of the hottest tickets this year is for a show running in conjunction with the fair. It features 80 works by the artist Banksy. The artist, however, is not happy about this. Banksy, who gained worldwide fame for street art laden with social commentary, says it is an unauthorized show organized by, quote, "unscrupulous profiteers." And as NPR's Greg Allen reports, Banksy's disapproval doesn't seem to be discouraging his fans from checking it out.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: More than 100,000 people saw the show when it was mounted earlier this year in Toronto. It includes silk-screened prints and spray-painted canvases, smaller versions of the images the artist was painting on walls in Bristol and London a decade ago. Many are familiar.
CHRIS FORD: So, for example, the key piece we have in this room is the "Smiley Copper."
ALLEN: Chris Ford, one of the show's curators, points out the riot policeman with a smiley face.
FORD: It's totally subverted by him putting a smiley face on it and some wings.
ALLEN: Also the "Pulp Fiction" send up, where the guns John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are holding are replaced by bananas. There are some Banksy of England spoof 10-pound notes with Princess Diana replacing Queen Elizabeth. Ford, one of the show's curators, says the pieces are on loan from collectors, many of whom purchased them from the artist.
FORD: And we have two examples of the most well-known of Banksy's images, the "Girl With Balloon" original and the "Flower Thrower" original as well.
ALLEN: "Girl With Balloon," one of Banksy's recurring images, was in the news recently when a canvas version was partially and deliberately shredded after it was sold at auction for $1.4 million There's something jarring about seeing work by an artist known for his guerrilla installations displayed in a gallery. His stencil paintings, often carrying a message that's both humorous and political, have popped up surreptitiously on walls from New York to the Gaza Strip. One photo in the show captures a slogan Banksy stenciled in Trafalgar Square in 2003, labeling it a designated riot area. The show was mounted without the participation or approval of the artist, a fact organizer Steve Lazarides says is made clear to all visitors.
STEVE LAZARIDES: I never made any bones about it from the beginning. It was always an unauthorized show. I wouldn't want anyone to ever think that this was a Banksy show. It's not. It's an exhibition of Banksy's works, and it's not something that he's got any involvement in.
ALLEN: If Lazarides sounds defensive, that's because he and Banksy have a history. Lazarides worked with the artist for several years, eventually becoming his dealer, until the two had a falling out. A decade after they parted ways, Lazarides is still profiting from his Banksy connection.
LAZARIDES: I know he doesn't like the show. But I think, you know, at the end of the day, is it better for hundreds and thousands of people to be able to come and view those paintings or for it to be stuck on the wall of one collector?
ALLEN: In a statement, Banksy's management company says legal proceedings are underway against the exhibition's organizers who, quote, "abuse Banksy's name for their own financial greed." At the show in Miami, ticket prices start near $40. Some visitors I spoke to didn't have a problem with the cost or that it was an unauthorized show. Karen Correa says it seems to fit with Banksy's iconoclastic image.
KAREN CORREA: All of his installations are always kind of, like, controversial. So it feels like it's kind of, like, an invitation to yet maybe come (laughter).
ALLEN: The fact that Banksy's work, much of it with an anti-capitalist message, generates millions of dollars for the artist and the organizers of the show is an irony lost on no one, especially Banksy fans.
PHILGOOD DAVIS: Even as you're leaving, there's a really funny quote on the wall. And I screenshotted it 'cause I thought it was hilarious.
ALLEN: Philgood Davis pulls out his phone. The 2001 Banksy quote begins, we can't do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles.
DAVIS: Until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime, we should all go shopping and console ourselves.
ALLEN: The show of Banksy's work continues in Miami through February. Greg Allen, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF BROKE FOR FREE'S "FEEL GOOD")
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