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Banksy, hiding between guerrilla art and commerce

Gaby Reucher / eg
April 14, 2016

A new exhibition in a Munich gallery features the works of the world's most famous unidentified street artist: Banksy. If the underground graffitist were to actually show up, no on would know.

Munich exhibition Banksy, King of Urban Art at Kronsbein gallery - Paparazzi Rat. Copyright: Banksy/Police-Kids
Image: Banksy/Police-Kids

Dirk Kronsbein already owns 45 Banksy works, including some originals - and the gallery owner has only started collecting them a year ago. The 76-year-old businessman and patron of the arts is now holding his first exhibition devoted to Banky in his Munich gallery.

Kronsbein founded his gallery in 2009 after retiring. "I finally had time to focus on fine arts," he explains. The gallery, now managed by his daughter Sarah, is specialized in urban and pop art.

The gallery owner discovered Banksy by coincidence. "I was in Los Angeles and wanted to visit a gallery I knew, but there was a new gallery there instead. They made me visit the studio of an artist called Mr. Brainwash," he recalls.

Gallery owner Dirk Kronsbein with daughter Sarah. Copyright: Sabine Brauer Photos
Gallery owner Dirk Kronsbein with daughter SarahImage: Sabine Brauer Photos

Mr. Brainwash turned out to be one of Banksy's employees. Although the collector never got to meet Banksy himself, he gained access to his works through this artist.

Graffiti against social injustice

Like many others, Kronsbein was immediately captivated by Bansky's stencil art: "I'm fascinated by the way his political messages are translated into pictures." For instance, he recently produced a mural in the refugee camp in Calais featuring Apple founder Steve Jobs.

"It reminds us that Steve Jobs had a migration background since his father was a Syrian - and look what he achieved," explains Kronsbein.

Violence, social injustice, the arms trade - these are just a few issues Banksy targets through his satirical guerilla art. He often transforms well known imagery to provide a new perspective on social issues. His different rat stencils are world famous, and his "Paparazzi Rat" is being shown at Kronsbein's exhibition.

Banksy's Steve Jobs graffiti at the entrance of the refugee camp in Calais. Copyright: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Spingler
Steve Jobs, "The Son of a Migrant from Syria," graffiti at the entrance of the refugee camp in CalaisImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Spingler

A millionaire's status symbol

The collector is constantly looking for new Banksy works - but he's not the only one doing so. Many celebrities also want their own Banksy at home. "Banksy has become a status symbol," says Kronsbein.

An original work can cost some half a million British pounds. And at the moment, there aren't any originals for sale, according to Kronsbein.

Although no one knows the artist, he can be reached by email for commissions. Banksy is believed to be born in 1976 in Bristol, England. Since 1999, he has been showing his works in self-organized exhibitions and sells them through his own galleries, run by friends. Yet Banksy has always refused to be represented by commercial galleries.

Banksy, the artistic Robin Hood

Banksy has produced art for different social and charity organizations, but he's also ready to accept commissions from the ultra rich, such as Kate Moss, who he's portrayed as Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe.

The artist is often described as a Robin Hood who takes the money from the wealthy to hand it back to the poor, by supporting charities and promoting his socially critical views through his graffiti.

He surprised everyone in 2013 by setting up a pop-up stall for a day, selling original spray art canvases to tourists at bargain prices.

In 2015, he opened a temporary "bemusement park," called Dismaland, in the dreary English seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare. His creepy and trashy interpretation of a theme park was a satire of the tourism and entertainment industry. The popular exhibition also boosted the local economy by 27 million euros (over $30 million).

Bansky's Dismaland. Copyright: Claire Hayhurst/PA Wire URN:23861201
Banksy's "sinister twist on Disneyland"Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Hayhurst

Banksy remains unidentified

Surprisingly, his true identity remains unknown. Many have tried to unmask him, yet every revelation has been followed by a denial.

Art patron Dirk Kronsbein would also like to meet the artist personally one day. His friends, such as Mr. Brainwash - who is also represented in Kronsbein's gallery - have never revealed any clues. However, the gallery owner is at least sure that Banksy is male. Artists working with him have mentioned that Banksy has a very socially committed wife.

Dirk Kronsbein doesn't believe Banksy will ever reveal his identity. "He is not staying hidden just for fun. What he's doing is a criminal act. When he sprays the walls of houses or draws attention to the situation in Palestine through his art in Bethlehem, he could face legal charges."

What some see a vandalism is for other people high-priced art. Who knows? Dirk Kronsbein might have met Banksy already - without even knowing it.

The exhibition "Banksy - King of Urban Art @ Munich" can be seen at the Kronsbein gallery in Munich from April 15 through September 10, 2016.

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