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August 29, 2009

{     Banksy VS. Bristol Museum     }    


Beg, borrow or steal whichever ticket you need to get to Bristol. For the museum itself you will not need a ticket at all. However, the entrance is not free: it comes at the expensive price of about 4 hours of queuing, like it happened to me last Tuesday. The wait was insane, but well worth.

You are authorized to think whatever you want about Banksy: that he is a sell-out, a British copy of his mentor Blek Le Rat, that he has made millions on the hype... but until you have seen this exhibition, hold on on commenting on the art itself (or perhaps you are really jealous??). Forget technique for a moment (isn't actual skill gone out of fashion with Warhol anyway? And here there is a lot of arguing to do about that as well). If art is meant to speak to the public, Bansky's work is the most readable and punchier in the realm of social commentary. His ironic, scornful attitude to prejudice, taboos, welfare and everything that we consider proper, acceptable, normal, standard, is unmatchable and these are the reasons behind his success.

You may know the man just as the most prominent stencil artist worldwide, famous for such iconic images as the kissing cops and the bomb-hugging girl, but in his native Bristol there is a lot more on display, too much to mention it all.

Let's just say the exhibition takes over the whole museum: look carefully in the glass displays showcasing rocks and you will find a dildo hiding in between stalagmites and stalactites, while foxes protest against hunting in the taxidermy section. Elsewhere impressionist-like paintings show one of the hay pickers having a drag. Outside of the canvas... And the work is credited simply to a Local Artist, the most prominent Bristol ever had.

Three large rooms are dedicated to his own work. In one you can see a reproduction of his workshop (his stencils seem to be made with heavy, hard to cut, board rather than plastic) and works that are more clearly Banksy. Further down, instead, the stencils leave space for other art forms, in particular a twisted take on traditional European art. What about a House Of Commons populated exclusively by monkeys?

In the other two rooms, expect the unexpected even more.

Like a deranged zoo, in which different types of sausages come to a worm-like life in a glass cabinet, moving around, lapping water and humping each other just like bunnies at farm fairs. The point he is trying to make to be summed up by: "what the hell are we eating?"

Elsewhere a creepily realistic robotic monkey paints on a canvas the beautiful landscape he is originally from, from the inside of a cage resembling very much a prison. In other prison/zoo cells, security cameras (a hot topic for Banksy as you can see here- this is my street, by the way!) breed baby cameras in bird nests, and the famous Tweety shows itself turned into a sad grey parrot, tired of life.


The other room is mostly occupied by an iconic burn ice-cream van (remember Dad's Dead by Chris Shepherd?) complemented by a riot cop playing on a children swinging horse... These images are so striking you may not notice the classic statues on plinths around the room. Imagine the stereotypically armless Venus turned into a beggar, covered with a blanket, with spare change and a small dog at her feet; an Apollo wearing a suicide bomber belt kit; a Zeus turned into a sado-maso bishop and a female figure becoming a compulsive shopper.


All the vices of mankind laid out in with irony in front of your eyes. The socio-political commentary seems to have no end.

No matter what you think of the man, the exhibition is undeniably good and worth the wait: not sure about 4 hours but 2 or 3 hours of queuing will still see you walk in with some sort of mental sanity, needed to appreciate the artwork and not wanting to trash it. And you will want to see these images again and again, hoping a magic Bansky appears near you.

The bad news? Banksy VS. Bristol Museum closes tomorrow.

P.S. You had two and a half months to get there, so if you did not, you can only blame yourself for your stupidity (here's a video if you missed it).
And if you hope to be able to buy souvenirs, the museum sells postcards and posters... but the artist made sure the local Oxfam would receive anonymously a large lot of cool Banksy merchandise. Already sold out, you are allowed to believe the guy has a earth of gold deep down, while on the surface he oozes sarcasm and pungent British sense of humour.

By Tacita in Art, Reviews

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