Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bristol Museum vs Banksy

A queue snaking round the outside of the building and a 'waiting time one and a half hours' notice; I've not seen this outside the big London exhibitions and collections. The draw of Banksy, having accepted some sort of invitation to exhibit at Bristol, is such.

Street art has challenged me over the years. I used to think I was consistent in my view that graffiti was illegal and therefore bad. I liked the idea of designated street art areas and have worked with, or encouraged, groups of young people on estate walls, underpasses and dull church hall rooms. But things glimpsed from the train or painted over motorways? Surely bad?

It wasn't until I realised that from time to time I laughed at, or enjoyed, the illegal pieces that I fully understood I was actually engaging with them as art, not vandalism. I tended only to think of them as a bad thing if I didn't like them. Hypocrite? Oh yes.

There has been much talk and publicity about Banksy at Bristol. The title 'Bristol Museum vs Banksy' tells you all you need to know. This is not a separate exhibition. This is the museum allowing itself to be remixed.

Consequently the public are forced to walk round the entire museum to see what he has done - a rat with a backpack and spray gun in the middle of a natural history display of mammals. A prosthetic penis amongst the stalagmites in the minerals section. And amongst the pictures many by 'Local Artist.'

There is a remarkable installation of a zoo. A security camera looks over a nest of two smaller camera chicks. Tweety Pie looks tired and depressed and his eyes close and open. Processed meat and fish products are given life back. A fur coat lies in a tree, its belt swishing backwards and forwards.

Elsewhere, great statues are enveloped with urban decay and bondage kit. The Buddha has been in a pub brawl and sports a bruised fist, black eye and sling.

Down the road in Park Street (on the wall of a sexual health clinic) is the famous mural of the man hanging out the bedroom window while the returning husband looks for the adulterer. Recently someone threw paint at it. It has been cleaned up. Now I don't know if it was the artist himself who threw the paint. All I do know is that is is being cleaned up and restored. The street artist's apparently illegal work is now being restored by the very people against whom he transgressed.

Banksy's identity is much discussed. Nothing to add except that this humour is well-educated.

The only way you get rules changed is to break them. Which is why, dog-collarless and unrobed, I now proceed to the Morning Prayer I only say publicly twice a week, waiting for the canons of the Church of England to catch up with reality on the ground.


Mr Gnome said...

VG review. Thanks. I shall go and see for myself.

scott davidson said...
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