£350m Banksy rejected from art exhibition

Anonymous: Winston Churchill also submitted works under a false name to the exhibition.

Is Banksy any good? The graffiti artist submitted a piece to a famous London exhibition under a false name. They turned it down. And many others believe this pioneer is on the decline.

The Royal Academy’s annual summer exhibition, which opened last week, has been one of the U.K.’s most popular art shows since it started in 1769.

There is one big reason for this: alongside the great names of British art, ordinary people can submit their own work. First they have to get past a committee of artists. This year the committee was led by Grayson Perry.

More than 20,000 works were submitted, with 827 making the final cut. Among the thousands of disappointed artists was a superstar: Banksy.

Last week, the graffiti artist announced on Instagram that he had submitted a work under the name “Bryan S. Gaakman” — an anagram of “Banksy anagram”. One month after it was rejected, Perry asked Banksy to submit a piece. Banksy sent a revised version of the rejected work, which is now on display. It has been priced at £350 million.

The work is called “Vote to Love” and is a commentary on Brexit, which has been the subject of many of Banksy’s recent works.

Most of the comments on his Instagram post were positive, but one summed up the notion that Banksy may be on the decline: “This is a weak piece devoid of the trademarks for which you’ve become known. Submitting under a fake name allowed the judge to evaluate without the weight of your reputation and he made the right call.”

Many have criticised how Banksy’s work has become increasingly political. His themes — anti-war, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism, greed, poverty, nihilism — are already covered by hundreds of fashionable leftists.

British art critic Jonathan Jones wrote a scolding critique of Banksy in The Guardian. He describes his simple paintings as propaganda that leave “no room for ambiguity”.

“He has invented the artistic equivalent of a tweet. You see it, you get it,” he writes, adding that Banksy is what happens “when we treat art as something that takes no time, effort or passion to understand.”

And yet Banksy’s art sells for millions. He is one of Britain’s most famous contemporary artists. Surely he must be good?

Laughing all the way to the Banksy

Art does not have to be incredibly intricate or complicated to be good, say some. It simply has to strike a chord with ordinary people. A line from a poem or a short quotation can be every bit as great as a 600-page novel. Furthermore, Banksy is a pioneer who deserves credit for bringing art to the masses.

Banksy is a charlatan, reply others. He has become a millionaire by marketing himself well. He is only famous because of the mystique surrounding his anonymity, and the fact that he paints on walls rather than canvasses; it is nothing to do with his actual artistic ability. It is a poor reflection on society that he is so popular.

You Decide

  1. Do you like Banksy?
  2. Does good art have to be difficult to understand?


  1. You have five minutes. Draw something in the style of Banksy (on paper, not on the wall). It must have a political message.
  2. Research some other works by Banksy, and pick one that you find interesting. Is Banksy is trying to communicate a message through the work? If so, what?

Some People Say...

“Imagine how future generations will mock us for sanctifying Banksy.”

Jonathan Jones

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A piece of artwork depicting a “Vote to Leave” campaign placard that was used around the 2016 Brexit referendum with the placard altered to say “Vote to Love” was submitted under a false name to the Royal Academy’s annual summer exhibition. It was rejected. The artist was in fact Banksy, and he eventually sent in a revised version of the work which is included in the exhibition. Banksy’s work has become more and more political in recent years.
What do we not know?
Whether Banksy will be remembered long after his death as one of Britain’s greatest artists, as some have predicted. The history of art and literature is littered with people who were very famous in their own day but were unknown to future generations.

Word Watch

Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in London. They elect their own members, and hold regular exhibitions.
Grayson Perry
A British modern artist who is known for his ceramic vases and tapestries. He is also a cross-dresser and has a female alter ego named Claire.
Banksy’s identity remains unknown despite numerous suggestions and guesses. What is known is that he is based in Bristol, a city which is now known as the centre of Britain’s street art scene.
£350 million
The price is a reference to a claim by the Vote Leave campaign that the UK could spend an extra £350 million a week on health care if it left the European Union. The claim was famously emblazoned on their red battle-bus.
A person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.