Banksy at the exhibition “Icons of Urban Art” in Munich
Almost everyone is familiar with the name Banksy. He is world famous and on everyone’s lips. Yet his persona is a mystery – Banksy, the Bristol-born and to this day anonymous street art and action artist, is known for challenging boundaries. For years he has been causing a sensation with his works.
The current MUCA exhibition “Icons of Urban Art” includes one of the largest Banksy collections in Europe, which was compiled by the founders of the MUCA in over 20 years. Among other numerous originals, one of Banksy’s largest oil paintings is on display. The collection includes, among others, the 12 original key works of the official exhibitions initiated by Banksy since 2002.
The Banksy masterpiece from “Crude Oils”
“Are You Using That Chair” was the “masterpiece” in Banksy’s exhibition “Crude Oils” and is now one of the central works in the exhibition “Icons of Urban Art” at the Museum of Urban and Contemporary Art (MUCA).
“Crude Oils” was a self-organized Banksy solo exhibition in October 2005 in a vacant store in London’s well-heeled Notting Hill neighborhood. At the same time, “Crude Oils” stands for a series of works by Banksy since 2001, also referred to as “Vandalised Oil Paintings”. This refers either to used second-hand paintings from flea markets or bulky refuse, into which Banksy inserts contemporary details, or to pictures newly painted by him on the basis of world-famous models (“Remixed Masterpieces”), which he varies according to his purposes.
BANKSY, "ARE YOU USING THAT CHAIR?", oil on canvas, 2005.
The second largest oil painting by Banksy
Measuring 213 x 426 cm, the work “Are You Using That Chair?” is considered Banksy’s largest work after “Monkey Parliament” from 2009, which was auctioned in 2019 for a record sum of ten million euros.
The painting is based on Edward Hopper’s famous painting, “Nighthawks,” the American’s most famous work. Banksy’s “In your face” version is more than twice as large and cropped Hopper’s original at the top, making the variation even more panoramic. Hopper’s painting was created in the weeks following the Pearl Harbor attack in late 1941, between a bleak present, unexpected entry into the war, and an uncertain future. His figures represent loneliness, internal as well as external, which is why he is especially received in this respect in times of Corona.
Backgrounds to Banksy’s Masterpiece
“Are You Using That Chair?” was painted in oil on canvas and is signed with a gray stenciled Banksy tag. The self-taught Banksy “transposes” the subject to his 2005 present time, adding an overweight, aggressive pale Englishman in Union Jacks swimwear or underwear, with two plastic chairs lying on the floor around him as he angrily points to the broken window of the house he presumably tried to smash with one of the chairs. In his hand he holds a can of beer, the label of the Australian Fosters brewery covered. Beer expert and author Michael Jackson mentioned back in 1999 that Fosters was particularly popular with English hooligans. Arguably, Banksy is alluding to the negative role played by his countrymen on vacation or during soccer matches abroad. During the 2004 European Football Championships, for example, violent clashes broke out between English and local Portuguese fans in the tourist resort of Albufeira on June 24, 2004, after England’s defeat by host Portugal. At the 2000 European Championship, British football fans without T-shirts threw white plastic chairs at German fans, as in Banksy’s painting. Now the English hooligan/tourist has the undivided attention of Hopper’s pictorial staff, which in the original stares lonely-dimly ahead. The standard quietly British question in the pub, “Are You Using That Chair?” contrasts humorously with the intruder. “Speak softly but carry a big can of paint,” says Banksy 2000. The graffiti outsider from the street, the British street artist and soccer fan Banksy asks politely here with words, but in deeds he is just as much hooligan and vandal when he demands a place inside, in art history, next to Hopper, Warhol, Van Gogh or Monet (all in the Crude Oils exhibition), in short: next to the few works of art that really everyone knows internationally, which like Hopper’s original are somewhat worn out by multiple kitsch use. “Are You Using That Chair?” implies that the chair is still or now again vacant, unused, and Banksy wants to take its place artistically.