True to form the works appeared overnight; taunting the ‘graffiti-free’ Barbican in a tunnel close by the Barbican Centre. It’s a rather spirited addition to an area famous for its Brutalist style architecture – buildings that are modular, monolithic and unadorned. Yet given that as an architectural philosophy it’s associated with socialist utopian ideology; in other words an place of social ownership and public access we can’t help but think that Banksy and the Barbican compliment each other well.
The Barbican site had been decimated during second world war bombing, so the architects were tasked with the development of an entire city plot from scratch.The complex was designed in the 1950s by British firm Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, constructed during the 60s and 70s and subsequently opened in 1982.
Meanwhile Banksy, who was born in 1972 in Bristol began freehand graffiti art during the early 1990s. Much of his work levels criticism at the nature of modern society and the power of political and corporate forces. After turning to the art of stencilling by 2000 his notoriety has all but exploded since with his street art now found worldwide.
These works appear to be in ode of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat whose exhibition has recently opened at the Barbican Centre. On his Instagram account Banksy captioned a photo of one artwork;“portrait of Basquiat being welcomed by the Metropolitan Police – an (unofficial) collaboration with the new Basquiat show”.
Basquiat began as a graffiti artist but is known as a neo-expressionist. He created work of strong political undertone which challenged conventional views and highlighted issues about racism and economic inequality before sadly passing away in 1988 at the age of 27.
This dedication by one street artist to another has got us pondering the irony of the whole affair. Both these men began their work in the shadows – indeed Bansky remains so; and they have both sensationalised what is in fact an illegal activity.Yet their work has become the subject of fascination.
Indeed more and more Banksy works are being painstakingly removed; indeed entire walls are being carved away so that people can keep possession of the originals.While the mysterious artist has renounced a lot who capitalise from his name, the reality is that once a part of the public realm he literally has no control over what he creates.
According to the BBC, City of London officials have not yet decided what to do with the two works. “We plan to discuss the pieces with City Corporation colleagues and Barbican residents over the next few weeks,” said a spokesperson.
The likely outcome though is that they’ll be subject to strict preservation – where parts of the wall are removed or covered in perspex. Funnily enough this counters the entire meaning and nature of street art.Typically such work is ephemeral in nature or subject to temporary exhibition because of the criminality in an act considered vandalism. It begs the question whether or not Banksy is right to deserve special treatment.
The Barbican Centre itself is no stranger to controversy. Much of its past has been coloured by debate about whether the architecture deserves adoration or contempt. Indeed there was a lot of criticism levelled at the design early on. Somewhere along the way though is started to become fashionable and it’s towers are now the subject of high praise rather than revulsion.
Of course with a public warming to the centre naturally it has become an object of desire. While houses in the estate were initially intended to support true democratic living today they carry the price tag of an exclusive address. It makes the bare walls perfect poised for a Banksy touch given his champion of the working class and social minorities.
Regardless of your stance on the centre or indeed the line Banksy walks between criminal and artist he’s of our time and a catalyst for social commentary. Hence we can’t help but think that a little paint on the edges of the Barbican makes for colourful relief. Hurry along soon and you can considered it for yourself.
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