Friday, June 26, 2009

Banksy versus Bristol Museum

Banksy is now officially a British institution. From being chased by police for illegally spray-painting walls to having his paintings and prints sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds, a best-selling book published and his works hung in art galleries, Banksy must be laughing all the way to the bank(sy). He's now been given permission to run amok in his home town, Bristol, in its fine museum and art gallery.

His rise has been gradual and somewhat surprising, since we still know very little about him – not even his real name. Is he still wanted by the police or is it a marketing ploy now? Whether he even exists at all – like William Boyd's hoax Abstract Expressionist artist, Nat Tate, who some critics believed real when a monograph about him was published; even a party was held in his honour – is a moot point. The work is out there in the street and unavoidable, iconic and accessible to all. The public loves the underdog done good (but not too good).

Banksy's – attack is too much of a word; exhibition too little – new event, titled Banksy Vs Bristol Museum is a lot of fun, if nothing else. My three-year old daughter enjoyed it immensely – especially the caged chicken nuggets hatching out of egg shells. It appeals to the child in all of us – being able to poke fun at such a stiff, stuffy, elitist institution. Some of it is like a game – spot the Banksy – once you've seen the main Banksy rooms, there's the rest of the museum to explore and find a Banksy-defaced Old Master in between the boring real art. This is a partial shame – none of the other art in the museum gets a look in (unless it's been 'defaced' by Banksy). Having not been before – in fact, not heard of the place – it was great to see some of the other art – I will return when I'm not being swamped by teenagers taking photos with their phones of every Banksy in the building (one hundred, apparently). Old fart, me?

As much as I like Banksy, much of his work is didactic and gimmicky, poking fun at (now) obvious subjects such as big business, capitalism, fast food, the environment, fox hunting, zoos, CCTV, police, apathy, vandalism, art... every picture is a different target. Did I read he's like the Chapman brothers without the intellect, or did I just think of it? I think I probably read it somewhere but I do agree. His work is immediate, in your face – but is it art? Who cares – it's great fun. When was the last time you heard people laughing out loud in a museum or art gallery?

We got there early – having read we'd have to queue for an hour. We did queue for about an hour (well, I did; partner and daughter drank milkshakes in a nearby cafe), but on our way out there was no queue to be seen. Arrive late. No related merchandise in shop – Aarghh! The exhibition is free and runs until August 31st, 10am-5pm.

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