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Banksy in Rome

Updated: Aug 30, 2019

"The primary goal of conservation professionals, individuals with extensive training and special expertise, is the preservation of cultural property. Cultural property consists of individual objects, structures, or aggregate collections. It is material which has significance that may be artistic, historical, scientific, religious, or social, and it is an invaluable and irreplaceable legacy that must be preserved for future generations." American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works: Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. The Code of Ethics is an invaluable set of guidelines in conservators practice. As complete as it is, it still leaves certain areas for conservator’s decisions. One of them relates to graffiti art, where the artist consciously and invasively encroaches upon public or private space, often interfering with existing objects of architecture. The conflict generated that way forms an important part of artistic message – to lose the feeling of conflict means to lose part of the message. From May 24th, till September 4th, the spacious rooms of Rome’s Palazzo Cipolla host one of the most spectacular exhibitions of sculpture, graffiti and stencil prints by famous - or infamous, depending on the point of view – British artist working under pseudonym Banksy. The “War, Capitalism and Liberty” exhibition, organized jointly by the art foundation Fondazione Terzo Pilastro and the popular Roman art gallery 999Contemporary, presents 150 works by Banksy, his largest comprehensive exhibition so far, including never-before-seen pieces.

Prof. Emmanuele Emanuele, the current president of Fondazione Terzo Pilastro, stated that the actual graffiti came from private collections, and have not been illegally cut out of any building – a procedure known to happen several times in the past. The landlords and building owners, who suddenly woke up one day to see Banksy graffiti on their possessions, usually take one of two approaches. Some of them leave the art as it is, eventually putting some kind of protective screens to preserve the art work, like the “The Mild Mild West” that became one of the “must see” parts of Bristol. Most of them decide to cut them out and sell for a hefty profit –when in 2014, Fine Arts Auctions Miami auctioned one of Banksy’s most famous murals, “The Kissing Coppers” - removed from the wall of the Prince Albert pub in Brighton - the artwork reached the selling price of $575,000.

Banksy, Artwork from Blur's Think Tank, spray-painted on steel, 2006.

Fortunately, the paper conservator’s job in case of Banksy doesn’t carry that kind of dilemma. Banksy executed a lot of separate works on paper support, mostly stencil-sprayed, some in silk-screen. The most challenging problem for the paper conservator is the physical damage of object, like in the case of a stencil of a policeman in a full riot gear, but with a yellow smiley face. The artwork, spray-painted on cardboard, was badly damaged and underwent a metaphorical “leg transplant” procedure, marvelously performed by the Tate Gallery conservation team.

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