Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter is a long way from the city of Bristol in England’s south-west, where street artist Banksy built his global reputation. But at the moment there are more of the artist’s works there than in any other place in the world. Eighty or so of his most famous works have been installed in the precinct as part of the controversial exhibition The Art of Banksy, which has been brought – against Banksy’s wishes – to Sydney by his first art dealer and former manager and photographer, Steve Lazarides.
Lazarides started selling Banksy works from the back of his car in the ’90s and has since amassed a huge collection of art. He’s bringing his own pieces and some borrowed from private collections to Australia for the second time – in 2016 he exhibited the works in Melbourne.
“The show is definitely unauthorised,” he told Broadsheet back then. “One hundred per cent, completely and utterly unsanctioned.
“But if I didn’t break this work out of storage and collectors’ homes it would never be seen. I think a lot of the work he made during this period 15 years ago has more resonance now than when they were painted.”
The exhibition – which ironically has punters exiting through the gift shop – has some of Banksy’s best-known pieces from 1997 to 2008, including stencil works, canvases and larger-scale installations, such as a smashed-up Mini Cooper. Works that are instantly recognisable, even to those not familiar with the art world, will be on display. Iconic pieces including Girl With Red Balloon, Flower Thrower and Rude Copper will all be on show. There will also be behind-the-scenes glimpses of the artist’s artistic process.
Lazarides was a fundamental player in the rise of street art making its way into galleries and the mainstream art market. The collector and Banksy haven’t spoken in more than 10 years, and the artist and his mates are totally against the show, which has also toured to Tel Aviv, Auckland, Toronto and Miami.
“Regardless of what my personal feelings are about him, the guy’s a fucking genius,” Lazarides told Broadsheet. “He always was, always will be.”
None of the works on display have been taken from the street – many were made to be sold at Banksy’s first exhibition or have been collected by Lazarides during his time working with Banksy.
“I have a pathological hatred of people who take it off the street and sell it,” says Lazarides. “He made those works as a gift to the city.”
Lazarides is also one of the few people who knows Banksy’s true identity, which has been much debated and gossiped about over the years.
“It was fun for a few years, then it got really boring after awhile,” he says. “Everyone thinks [the anonymity] was this insanely clever marketing ploy. It wasn’t. It was self-preservation. In Bristol at the time the authorities had a pretty hardcore attitude towards street art. It wasn’t as easy as it is nowadays to go and put something up on the street. So the only way for him not to get arrested was to be very, very secretive.”
The Art of Banksy is at the Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, from Friday September 13. Tickets available here.