Almine Rech Gallery, one of Paris’s foremost galleries, opened its first New York location more than a year ago on the Upper East Side, bringing with it a unique program that mixes a strong artist roster with a consistently adventurous curatorial project. For its most recent venture, the gallery has brought together key figures from the canon of 20th century Western art for Words Without Thoughts Never to Heaven Go. Adapting its title from a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the exhibition investigates ways artists use text as an allegorical element. Serving as a chronological and thematic starting point to the exhibition is Être ou ne pas être, Picasso’s 1912 painting considered as one of the foremost examples of appropriation of text in modern painting. Declaring “to be or not be” in French with gouache on paper, Picasso not only pays homage to one of the most emblematic texts ever written, but he also questions the mimetic essence of a painting. Can a painting of words serve to depict an image?
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Always Hope, Banksy, via Banksy Official Website
Details of Banksy’s life remain to be completely confirmed – though exhaustive efforts have been undertaken by various sources to nail down this street artist’s identity. What is certain is that Banksy was born and raised in England, has worked with various crews of grafitti artists since he was a teen, and currently maintains, paradoxically, a high-status anonymity in both the art world and the public’s imagination.
Flower, pictured here with construction workers, Banksy, via Banksy Official Website
In an effort to dodge street police, Banksy adopted innovative stencils to create his now-signature works. They allowed for much faster application on public surfaces that have included the walls of zoos, hospitals, tunnels, and otherwise unremarkable locales. However in recent years, he has also traveled around the world, gaining international attention with tags in various countries, including the controversial West Bank territory.
Have a Nice Day, political image using iconic smiley face, Banksy, via Banksy Official Website
His work incorporates satire, images of animals, small children, British references of Royal Guards and Queen Victoria, anti-war messages, riffs on classic paintings, etc. Sneaking into famous museums like the Metropolitan in New York and the Louvre in Paris to personally hang up his works is one well-known Banksy stunt.
Maid, Banksy, with his wall-exposing illusion, via Datscool
Banksy has, however, had gallery showings of his work, and the artist has taken on commercial projects, like the design of Blur’s album cover. Celebrities such as Christina Aguilera and Angelina Jolie have purchased his pieces for sums of up to approximately $500,000, while other works consistently sell at high prices through venues, including Sotheby’s. His art has accumulated so much value that owners of walls with his graffiti have actually auctioned them off to the highest bidder.
Image of rat found in Austria, Banksy, via Graffiti
Monkey image with the artist’s signature in the corner, Banksy, via Daily Mail
Regardless of Banksy’s much-contested value as an artist, his influence on the boom of street art in both the fine arts market and contemporary culture cannot be denied. The artist displays his drawings and “indoor” works on his website, Banksy.co.uk, and also offers published books of his art.
Queen Victoria canvas, Banksy, purchased by Christina Aguilera, via Luxist
Pissing Guard, in England, Banksy via Current