Unauthorized Banksy tour lands in Pittsburgh

Unauthorized "Banksyland" exhibition brings 100 of the artist-provocateur’s works to Pittsburgh for the first time, and a gift shop to remember it by.

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Banksyland setup. All photos by Brian Conway.

“I love this question,” says Banksyland spokesperson, Britt Reyes: What does she think of criticism that a traveling Banksy exhibition is cashing in on anti-capitalist art?

“Of course, I think it’s very ironic,” she says. “We’re selling tickets to see Banksy’s works.”

Banksy’s subversive stencils and site-specific installations pop up like mushrooms in places like Kyiv and Paris and Palestine, taking on authoritarianism and consumerism with biting wit and whimsy.

The pseudonymous artist doesn’t organize or endorse these types of career-spanning gallery shows, creating a vacuum for unaffiliated groups, like the organizers behind this weekend’s Banksyland exhibition in the Strip District, to spread the “guerrilla” artist-activist’s gospel–for a fee.

From Banksy’s “Segregation Wall” series. Brian Conway photo.

“Our motive is not to commoditize, not to just make a bunch of money in a cash grab off this,” says Reyes, saying no one will be turned away if they can’t or choose not to pay.

Instead, she says, the goal is to provide people in cities that haven’t seen Banksy’s often site-specific art an opportunity to witness it live, especially as the artist’s works attract record prices and become cloistered in private collections, far from the public eye.

The exhibition spans the Bristol-born artist’s 30-year body of work, from early, Blek le Rat inspired graffiti on stop signs, to screenprints affiliated with projects like the artist’s West Bank hotel, unlicensed refugee rescue ship, and more. Most of the works are originals, on loan from private collectors; others, like a life-size flower thrower sculpture, are reproductions.

The event is organized by Oregon-based One Thousand Ways, which was originally planned as a nonprofit but has since pivoted to an LLC, and has attracted criticism due to the vagueness surrounding their mission.

Banksyland merch.

One Thousand Ways had originally pledged 10% of proceeds to local arts organizations in cities that the 32-city tour visits. Reyes, also VP of Operations for One Thousand Ways, could not confirm that 10% figure, and says that no partner arts organization has been identified in Pittsburgh yet. 

She says that in other cities, money from bar proceeds went to partner arts organizations, and to the best of her knowledge contributions will be made at the end of the tour and then disseminated to organizations.

Reyes says that because of their ethos, Banksyland has what is known in the industry as a tacit “Banksy Blessing.” She notes that Banksy’s website has a “product recall” page that denounces certain unlicensed tours as fake, and theirs is not included. She also describes emailing with Pest Control and Banksy, saying they are aware of the tour and its contents, and that they declined an offer for 100% of the proceeds or a donation to a charity of Banksy’s choice.

Banksy’s “Flying Copper” and “Kate Moss.” Photo: Brian Conway.

Emails sent by Pittsburgh Independent to Pest Control, Banksy’s sole and only authorized representative, went unanswered.  An FAQ on Pest Control’s website states that Banksy is not involved or associated with any traveling Banksy exhibitions.

Tickets cost $29 [1 hour]; $59 [VIP]; $22 [student and children]. The exhibit begins noon Friday, on the top floor at Cadence+ at the Strip–2401 Smallman Street.

“$30 to experience over 100 pieces of Banksy’s work is pretty affordable compared to a lot of the galleries,” says Reyes.  

Applications for need-based ticketing can be found here. Or just show up. That’s what Banksy would bless. (We think.)

“If no one wants to pay that ticket, and they’re like, ‘I want to do this for free,’ come in,” says Reyes. “If somebody can’t afford a ticket, welcome on in. We collectively sought to make this work accessible.”

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He is a 2x 2023 Western PA Press Club Golden Quill award winner, in feature and business reporting. And a 3x finalist in the investigative reporting category.

He is a 2018 first prize winner in environmental reporting from the Keystone Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for reporting on lead in Pittsburgh’s drinking water.

In 2022 and 2021, he was awarded a grant from The Gumshoe Group to support his investigative reporting.