An artwork that appeared in Melbourne’s iconic Hosier Lane yesterday reported to be a Banksy original has been denounced as “a blatant attempt to garner publicity” for a controversial, unauthorised exhibition opening in Melbourne tomorrow.

Jo Brooks, the famous street artist’s London-based publicist, told Crikey in an email that the artwork, as well as an accompanying video that purports to have caught Banksy on camera escaping the scene, is “totally fake and it a blatant attempt to garner publicity for an unauthorised show”. The artwork is a picture of Pauline Hanson wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Fuck off, we’re fools” (a play on the “Fuck Off We’re Full” T-shirts).

socalledbanksy

“Please can you advise your viewers that the artist Banksy is NOT in Melbourne and has no plans to come to Australia,” Brooks said.

The show mentioned by Brooks is Art of Banksy, and it opens on Friday in Federation Square. It’s put together by Banksy’s former agent Steve Lazarides and brings together 80 privately held Banksy works that have already been on show in Europe. Lazarides recently told Broadsheet he hasn’t spoken to Banksy in some time. “We’ve been at loggerheads for years,” he told the website, referring to a famous though little understood falling out more than a decade ago. Lazarides added that Banksy was “not the kind of guy who is ever going to do a retrospective”. Brooks told Crikey she hoped the public was absolutely aware it wasn’t authorised, as it has an entry fee.

The exhibition has been highly controversial within the street art community. Melbourne street artist artist Matt “Adnate” — who is known for brightly coloured, realistic portraits of Aboriginal people — yesterday showed The Age a large artwork he has painted in protest against the exhibition, modelled on Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ with Lazarides as Judas. “The exhibition is something that Banksy disapproves of,” he told The Age.

Brooks contacted Crikey after we contacted Pest Control, an agency that acts on behalf of Banksy to authenticate the artist’s much-copied artwork. The agency usually declines to authenticate street art, saying that Banksy prefers it to remain “in situ” and that building owners become irate when their doors go missing if an artwork is authenticated. But the agency issued Crikey with a swift denial about the Hosier Lane stencil. “This is a hoax,” a spokesperson said succinctly, before adding for good measure that “the show in Melbourne has nothing to do with Banksy, it’s an unauthorised show”.

The announcement that the Hosier Lane stencil is a hoax won’t come as a huge surprise to many art fans, who reacted to the much-reported news with scepticism. As one source in the artistic community remarked, the video alleged to show Banksy, famous as much for his anonymity as his art, showed a man leaving the stencil and walking away before turning towards the camera to tell the woman filming to “fuck off” in an Australian accent (Banksy’s earliest artwork in the 1990s was mostly in Bristol — he is almost universally believed to be British). Meanwhile, the stencil, while using many of Banksy’s stylistic preferences (monochrome, stencilled, political, in a high-traffic area), was rather specific to Australia in its references — much of Banksy’s art takes a more universal approach.

And the evidence gathered by the Herald Sun, one of the many outlets to report on the new stencil, was hardly convincing. “It’s definitely an original as Banksy is in Melbourne,” a “passer-by in Hosier Lane” told the paper. The Hun also quoted “Mia”, the woman who uploaded the video of “Banksy” yesterday, though it added she had not responded to further questions about the video. The video has been widely linked to by online media, and viewed more than 50,000 times on YouTube.

Broadsheet yesterday revealed how they were contacted by “Mia” as well, though they were more sceptical about the approach. An email sent to them yesterday said:

“I thought you might like this! So I was walking home from work late last night and I was watching a street artist doing a piece in Hosier lane. I double backed and pulled out my phone as he was finishing up. I’m pretty sure it was Banksy!”

But when they searched the sender’s full name, which they haven’t revealed, she was listed as a Melbourne marketing professional on LinkedIn.

Peter Fray

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