Posted by: martinworster | July 2, 2009

63. BANKSY VS BRISTOL MUSEUM – REVIEW

When I first found out the news that Banksy’s latest show was to be at the Bristol City Museum I initially thought ‘how controversial, a man like the Banksy in a museum, who’d have thought it?’ It didn’t seem particularly revolutionary for a geezer who’s consistently courted reaction and made a career out of being anti-establishment. The last Banksy show I was lucky enough to see was in a large warehouse in a run down area south of downtown Los Angeles back in 2006. The show was roadblocked. A-list celebs like Angelina and Brad swooped onto the private viewing to invest in the Bristolian’s magic – shrewdly given what they now fetch at auction. An elephant was in the room – literally, to the consternation of animal rights campaigners who complained about the beast’s treatment. For the day I was there I spotted Macaulay Culkin, Mila Kunis and Beck.

 

I always felt a special connection with Banksy. Before he blew up in the mainstream I had the pleasure of being friends with his first (and ex) manager Stephen Earl (RIP) who I met in Barcelona. This was around 2003. They’d apparently fallen out over financial issues – as is common in these relationships. A then still largely unknown Banksy had just completed the album cover for Blur’s Think Tank. Stephen had a massive oil painting by Banksy in his living room titled Ghetto Superstore depicting an out of town shopping centre burning with rioting grannies in the foreground. I was lucky enough to acquire a few pieces by Banksy from Stephen. But that’s a whole other story.

 

I was very excited as I drove down to Bristol. Lucky to still be in England. To see Banksy’s show in his hometown. The queue was quicker than I thought it would be – 45 minutes. We’d been warned about how popular the show was and we came off lightly.

 

The premise of the show was that Banksy had ‘remixed’ the museum. After entering, the first room featured solely Banksy pieces – the rest of his work was to be found dotted around the large museum, hung amongst oil paintings or in the glass display cabinets with Egyptian relics or stuffed animals. The first room featured new pieces amongst some older work. Still always a pleasure to see it hanging all in one space like this. A large new oil painting depicted the main chamber of the Houses of Parliament occupied by monkey’s instead of MPs. School boy stuff. Funny and entertaining but hardly incisive or revolutionary satire, more apt on the back of a school book than in a gallery. Other typical Banksy themes and motifs re-occured; big brother and surveillance cameras, monkeys and rats, swipes at celebrity culture, anti-capitalism, punks, anti-Americanism, Third (should I say Developing?) World exploitation. All stock Banksy stuff – all imbided with his humour, visual one liners, art as if created by a punning Sun sub-editor. Stand out pieces included the Thomas the Tank engine being sprayed by graffiti artists and the model of Britannia as she holds aloft the CCTV camera. 

 

The next room featured sculptures and 3 D work. Most of it making me believe that Banksy must be a fellow vegetarian. Moving chicken McNuggets eating in front of a hen hatch. A fish finger swimming around a goldfish bowl. A fur coat model of a cheetah sitting in a tree. Other pieces included an artist monkey and a rabbit getting dressed in front of a mirror. Banksy seems keen to branch out from merely being a graphic artist. 

 

The rest of the work was dotted amongst the museum. This is where it really got to be fun. Some of it – particularly the remixed oil paintings hung amongst the classics – were easy to spot. The Virgin Mary and Jesus wearing iPods. A couple ‘dogging’ in a car amongst a bucolic setting, shepherd watching forlornly. Other works were harder to spot and really made you walk around the museum examining everything closely. In the taxidermy section amongst stuffed fowl and dogs a muzzled sheep. In a pottery display a Monet style ballet dancer in clay wearing a gas mask. A rubber dildo amongst a display of stalagmites. A Chinese terracotta soldier with a reduced price sticker on his back in the antiquity section. I am sure I missed lots of pieces as they were interspersed amongst the whole museum. I even photographed things I thought might have been Banksy’s as they looked strange, but on reflection, were probably just indigenous museum works. There was a very strange looking stuffed bird. An extra large skeleton of a ‘giant Irish deer’ which had once roamed the Emerald Isle – I thought this had to be made up. 

 

This was the original and clever part of the show – it really make you interact with the museum in a different way. Banksy had pulled the remix off.  This was to be expected – over the years  in his every day graffiti and stencil work he makes people look at the world in a different way using the urban space as his canvas. He’d now achieved this amongst the confines of a once stuffy and probably never before as busy museum. 

 

 

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Responses

  1. great post. i love his stuff. definitely makes you think,like good art should. ~dw

  2. Hey, thanks for your post, especially because it made me realize that I must have missed a bunch of his works hidden in some corner of the museum.

    I had my own take on why he might have gone to a museum (see http://herrhorn.com). The whole time I was there, I couldn’t stop thinking that he’s among the visitors, just watching them engaging with his art. And that in itself is a piece of art… actually much like those slides they had at tate modern some time ago. What do you think?


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