The major exhibitions are marked in capital letters:
- Walls on Fire. Bristol, 22 – 23 August 1998. Collective exhibition, co-organized by Banksy
- Early exhibition in Easton. Bristol, ca 1998.
- SEVERNSHED. Bristol, February 2000. Banksy’s first major solo exhibition.
- Rivington Street. London, 2001. 12 street art pieces in Shoreditch
- Peace is Though. Glasgow, March 2001. Collective exhibition.
- Existencilism. Los Angeles, 19 July 2002. Only Banksy work.
- Santa’s Ghetto 02. London, 2002. Collective exhibition
- Semipermanent. Sidney, 2003. Collective exhibition
- TURF WAR. London, July 2003. Banksy’s second major exhibition. Only Banksy work.
- Santa’s Ghetto 03. London, December 2003. Collective exhibition
- The segregation wall. Palestine, August 2005. Banksy’s international breakthrough as a political artist
- CRUDE OILS. London, October 2005. The third major exhibition. Only Banksy work
- Santa’s Ghetto 05. London, December 2005. Collective exhibition
- BARELY LEGAL. September 2006. The fourth major exhibition and the first big US show. Only Banksy work.
- Santa’s Ghetto 07. Palestine, December 2007. Collective street art exhibition in Palestine
- The Cans Festival. London, May 2008. Collective street art exhibition in London
- VILLAGE PET STORE AND CHARCOAL GRILL. New York, October 2008. Remarkable exhibition with animatronics
- BANKSY VS BRISTOL MUSEUM. June 2009.Banksy’s sixth major exhibition. Only Banksy work.
- Marks and Stencils. London. November 2010. Collective exhibition
- MOCA. Los Angeles, April 2011. Collective exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art, LA
- BETTER OUT THAN IN. October 2013. Banksy’s seventh major exhibition. Only Banksy work.
- DISMALAND. August – September 2015. The eighth major exhibition. Collective exhibition with 58 other artists.
- THE WALLED OFF HOTEL. Palestine. March 2017 and ongoing.Banksy’s ninth major exhibition. Collective exhibition with Palestinian artists and more than 20 new Banksy originals
- GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT. 1 October – 15 October 2019. Individual exhibition in Croydon. Banksy’s tenth mayor exhibition and “gamechanger” in the art world?
The important exhibitions (marked in capital letters in the list above) have been located to:
- 3 in the Bristol area: Severnshed, Banksy vs Bristol Museum, and Dismaland
- 3 in the London area: Turf War, Crude Oils and GDP
- 2 in New York: The Charcoal Grill and Better Out than In (BOTI)
- 1 in Los Angeles: Barely Legal
- 1 in Palestine: Walled Off Hotel
We can observe that the official exhibitions are concentrated around the axis Palestine – London – Bristol – New York and Los Angeles.
If we include the smaller exhibitions, we will find that only two deviate from this axis: Glasgow in 2001 and Sydney, co-hosted by Shepard Fairey in 2003. There were also some smaller European exhibitions in 2003, one in Copenhagen co-hosted by Ben Eine and another in Vienna. But, according to reliable sources, it isn’t sure if Banksy showed up at the Sydney or Copenhagen exhibitions.
If we look at the periodicity, we can observe that the periodicity is approximately every two years. There is a jump between 2009 and 2013, which can be explained by the production of the film, which was released in 2010. We will come back to the periodicity later in the text.
What else can be said about Banksy’s art shows? They are not conventional exhibitions of paintings and sculptures in a gallery or museum:
Groundbreaking – Thinking big from the beginning
Right from the beginning, he started doing groundbreaking content, on his own terms in a groundbreaking format and presented with very short notice. He did a few warm-up shows in Europe, one in Glasgow in 2001 and another in Los Angeles the year after, but his big breakthrough in the UK was undoubtedly Turf War in the summer of 2003. Turf War was announced a few days before it opened and was a mixture of paintings, sculptures, installations, live animals, crashed cars etc. Underground artists had made similar exhibitions in similar derelict warehouses since the late 1950s, but Banksy took the underground expression to another level – more professional, better organised and a huge amount of self-irony directed to the underground movement he supposedly came from.
After Turf War, his art shows have been even more groundbreaking in the sense that no one had done something similar before. For example, Banksy vs Bristol Museum was unique; no other living artist had done anything similar. He never repeats the same winning concept; always a risk-taker, exploring new ways to exhibit. Four years later, he organised Better Out Than In on the streets of New York – far away from the safe museum environment. Two years later, Dismaland was another completely different and unexpected art show. And on the same note, who could have expected Walled Off Hotel in 2017 or GDP in 2019?
A special mention to the collective exhibition Dismaland, organised by Banksy in august 2015. Although Banksy only contributed with approx 15 pieces, one can say that the whole project was a piece of art by Banksy. And it had one key element – The contradiction: The sad bemusement park. A helpdesk closed to the public. Everything at Dismaland was the other way around. The Hawaimusic at full volume was played in “minor” and at varying speeds.
The contradictions have been a constant in Banksy – in the imagery: The girl hugging a bomb instead of a teddybear, the street fighter throwing a bouquet instead of a molotov cocktail, the copper giving you the finger, the Christ with shopping bags, Virgin Mary feeding her baby with venom. The contradictions have also been part of the overall narrative: Anonymous but seeking the spotlight constantly. An icon for the alternative yet one of the best-paid painters in the UK. High voltage political figure claiming social justice and transparency, at the same time an incarnation of opacity. A constant provocateur of the art establishment, but, at the same time selling his studio pieces directly to VIP-collectors, and on the secondary market – hitting “all-time highs” at top auction houses. The contradictions and double entendres are not only essential in his paintings, but they are also the essence of the Banksy phenomenon. We will come back to a deeper interpretation of the contradiction later in the text.
It’s undoubted that there is a production team involved in producing the artwork and the art shows and mounting them “on-site”. Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and other big-thinking artists also have production teams, nothing strange with that. What’s unique about Banksy’s production team is that no one in his team has gone public.
In the summer of 2009, Banksy mounts his most important exhibition, “Banksy vs Bristol Museum”. It’s a massive effort with more than one hundred new pieces as well as some of the stuff from” The Village Pet” the year before. It became the most visited art exhibition in the UK ever. Kate Brindley was one of the museum directors at the time. She explains in the book” Banksy, the man behind the Wall” by Will Ellsworth-Jones:
” It was like a big sort of Changing Rooms. We shut the museum, and it all came in. The only reason we could do that was because they (The Banksy team) had the manpower and the finances. They were incredibly professional. I am used to putting on exhibitions, but it was done in such a large and accelerated fashion. It was like working with a film crew”.
Once again, a tight and well-organised team at work.