As It Happens

Banksy exhibit protester hangs his own art across the street

While people shell out $35 a pop to check out a Banksy exhibit in Toronto, George Warner is displaying his own art from a chainlink fence across the street.

George Warner says unauthorized Banksy show is everything that's wrong with the city's arts scene

Toronto artist George Warner says the Banksy exhibit in Toronto, which has not been approved by the anonymous street artist, is emblematic of everything that's wrong with the city's arts scene. (Submitted by George Warner)

While people shell out $35 a pop to see a Banksy exhibit at a brick loft in Toronto, George Warner is displaying his own art from a chainlink fence across the street in protest.

"I've had many offers," Warner told As It Happens host Carol Off from his sunny spot on Sterling Road. "I'm negotiating on a few."

The North American premiere of The Art of Banksy, which opened Wednesday and runs until July 11, is a $35-million exhibit of 80 original works curated by Banksy's former agent Steve Lazarides.

Warner says it's emblematic of everything that's wrong with the Toronto arts scene — too much focus on the trendy, art that caters to the wealthy, and a lack of space and attention for struggling local creators.

"First of all, they could have contacted some arts groups and maybe give us a wall — one of the walls in this huge gallery he's got here," he said. 

​"There's a lot of artists that don't get any representation whatsoever."

Curated by one of Banksy's former agents, Steve Lazarides, The Art of Banksy — a $35-million exhibit consisting of 80 of the artist's original works — debuts in Toronto this week on Sterling Road, the first stop in a larger North American run. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Banksy, the anonymous street artist known for his politically charged, anti-establishment graffiti, has not approved the show, which features works he made for private collectors. 

Writer John Semley called the show "utterly, unashamedly, vulgar." 

"The inflation of even the most modest artworks on the open collectors' market is a well-known concern. But in the case of street art in general, and Banksy in particular, this process feels more acutely insulting," Semley wrote in in NOW Magazine.

"This is a show less about art than about the value of that art and, by extension, the lucky connoisseurs who judiciously hedged bets on the artist's potential renown."

George Warner is displaying his own art from a chainlink fence across the street from The Art of Banksy's North American premiere. (Submitted by George Warner )

Lazarides has defended the exhibit, insisting the artist would prefer his work be on display than stored away in a collector's basement.

"He's done exhibitions over the years. And in his heart of hearts, I think he'd rather have people looking at his work rather than it being mothballed in some warehouse somewhere. And that's where a lot of it was … Now the general public can see it," Lazarides told CBC News.

"People having to pay to get in, I think if this was a Basquiat exhibition, people wouldn't even ask that question. I think he's on that kind of level nowadays and it costs a lot of money to put this kind of thing together."

The Art of Banksy (David Donnelly/CBC)

But it's not just the way Banksy's art is being exhibited that rubs Warner the wrong way.

He's also protesting Banksy himself.

"You know, Banksy's supposed to be a socialist. I mean if you look at his art, he projects the common man and the frustrations and protests, but I don't see him moving to the next level now," he said.

"If he's so popular, why doesn't he do something for the world?"

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview with George Warner produced by Sarah Cooper.