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Banksy Exhibit to Make North American Debut With Toronto Warehouse Show Putting the ‘Art in Context’

Live Nation is bringing the rock star of graffiti to Toronto — or at least his art. This summer, the Canadian city will be the first in North America to get The Art of Banksy exhibit, which will show more than 80 pieces worth 35 million Canadian dollars by the anonymous political street art warrior.

There is no wall art in the exhibit curated by Britain's Steve Lazarides and to be displayed at a warehouse on Toronto's Sterling Road. On loan from private collectors around the world, many of the pieces were purchased through Lazarides when he was Banksy's agent.

"He's never going to turn up. This isn't a Banksy show. This is a show of Banksy's artwork," Lazarides said at a press conference on Monday. "If he was to do a show, it would be a very different show to this. He has not done a show in many years now." He stressed again: "No pieces taken from the street."

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The Art of Banksy runs June 13 to July 11 and will then head to the United States. Live Nation has already taken the exhibition to Melbourne, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam and Auckland. 

Live Nation was negotiating with Athens and Stockholm before Starvox Entertainment founder Corey Ross — who saw The Art of Banksy with his family in Amsterdam last summer — suggested Toronto and started sending photos of the empty warehouse space to Live Nation's Michel Boersma, SVP, family entertainment and theatre, based out of Dubai.

Starvox Entertainment primarily presents plays and musicals, including the Canadian premiere of Dee Snider's Rock ‘n' Roll Christmas Tale, but also did a tour for Bryan Adams in Mexico and has an upcoming show in Montreal by Andrea Bocelli, the tenor's first in the city in more than 20 years. Ross has started a new company division called Starvox Exhibits. Fifty thousand tickets will go on sale on Saturday via Ticketmaster and banksyexhibit.com. It is being billed as "Starvox Exhibits in association with Live Nation."

The Toronto show will also have a music component.

"We're going to have a space on the right when you walk in the door where we'll have a stage," Ross told Billboard. "We haven't figured out how we're programming it yet or what we're doing with it. We're certainly inviting every Live Nation act all summer to come by." 

Billboard spoke with Boersma — who was hired by Live Nation in 2016 — about his division, the Banksy exhibition and what's next. 

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You were brought in by Live Nation a couple of years ago to create the family entertainment and theatre division. Are art exhibits that lucrative an area for such a big global player?

Family entertainment and exhibitions and non-core are events that you can do many times a year, events you can do every year. With the big pop acts, they are cycles of three or four years and then they go on tour again. One of the things that Live Nation has seen is that it's possible to reach an audience multiple times a year with this kind of content.

Was that the first time they went into art? 

As international tours, yes. There were local offices — like in Germany and the Netherlands — that do this kind of content, but incoming. So they only present. And what we do is we manage and produce and create this kind of content. That's the first one. We're the only one doing that within Live Nation. For us to bring Banksy, which we own, to North America is a very nice next step.

Why Toronto? Besides Live Nation's CEO Michael Rapino being Canadian and working his way up the corporate ladder in Toronto…

It makes sense. Corey proposed doing it in Toronto and for me, it was like, "Shit, we didn't think about that one." Live Nation's got Canadian roots and Toronto roots. But it's a thriving arts scene and great cultural life here. Yes, my initial thought was, "Let's go to New York," but this is way more interesting and when we got to see the venue options that we had, we found 213 Sterling Road. It was a munitions factory and an electronics factory; it's big so we're able to build inside that industrial complex a museum-grade exhibition. So it touches both — the industrial side and the street side and the museum.

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What is the plan to take The Art of Banksy to the States?

We are looking at the moment in going to the U.S. after Toronto. We haven't announced them yet, but at the moment Toronto beat Athens and Stockholm. In the meantime, together with Corey and Starvox, we're looking at going to the U.S.

The cat was let out of the bag last week about this exhibit. What truth is there to the part of the story that said Banksy was against this exhibit? Surely he wouldn't let Live Nation tour CA$35 million of his works if he was against it?

Can I be blunt? It's utter bullshit. Because the thing that got leaked, the quote from Banksy is from 2014. We started in 2016. We've done it in all those cities and Banksy and Pest Control are really vocal. If they were against it, they would make themselves known and they haven't. We work with collectors and we bring together the collection for each city. This is art that is bought; it's not from a wall. We're not touring walls. This is all sculptures or it's prints and paintings, created by Banksy, some of them bought direct from Banksy because that's how he funds his projects.

So pieced together by owners. He's already been paid.

Yes. And the thing is it's an expensive enterprise to bring all of this together. It's 35 million Canadian dollars worth of art. On top of that, Steve Lazarides, who curated it, a business partner of Banksy for 12 years — they stopped 10 years ago — he was also a photographer, so the layout we're doing [for the exhibition] is we use his vast archives of the creation of the projects themselves so we can put the art in context, which nobody can possibly do of Banksy.

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Some of the pieces aren't the same as previous exhibits because owners want them back?

Yes. We're very proud that we've got "Forgive Us Our Trespassing," which is this 7-meter high… It looks like a stained glass window, which Steve hasn't seen for the last 10 years. It's been in a bonded warehouse and this is the first time we're going to be able to show it. As soon as we said to the lenders and the collectors, suddenly pieces that we had been wanting to take became available.

Any collectors from Toronto or Canada?

No. We have U.S., Hong Kong, Europe and U.K. collectors.

Any other art exhibits on the horizon? The Van Gogh one?

We're working with the Van Gogh Museum [in Amsterdam] on bringing it out here, Meet Van Gogh. We're working together with Victory Hills [Exhibitions] on the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. and, at the moment, we're looking at a new exhibition to develop for 2019.

Is there a music tie in at Banksy? Live bands?

Starvox, the local presenter, who we work with wants to have live performance at the venue. That's the beauty of having a big live venue like that. So we're going to have live music there and there's music at the exhibition; it's not silence. Steve has curated the music track. There's a music element to this because there's a music element to Banksy.

The David Bowie exhibit has been to Toronto and The Rolling Stones exhibit has toured. Would you consider doing rock photography or tour posters from, say, Frank Kozik?

The project for 2019 that we're looking at the moment is a rock-related exhibition, which I'm very excited about because it shows the other side of the rock artists that we know and it shows their passion.