For many years, Banksy (or Robin to friends) was the scourge of Bristol and in particular Bristol City Council. Banksy’s stencil artwork caused much debate, some Bristolians appreciated Banksy’s work and were eager for their properties to be adorned with a Banksy original, but other Bristol residents were less enthusiastic, and annoyed at the abuse of their property.
In 2009, Banksy gave Bristol an exhibition by way of a thank-you for his roots, ideas, beliefs, attitude and paint supplies.
Following a conformist queue, the Banksy exhibition visitor was faced first with a Glastonbury festival toilet cubicle reconstruction of Stonehenge. Every detail was meticulous. Entering the first hall of Bristol Museum, a torched ice-cream van appeared. The sights and sounds were remarkable, every sense was exploited.
A series of famous statues, including the Angel of the North and Michelangelo’s David, were shown with various twists. Further displays included a lion who had consumed his trainer and a Metropolitan Police officer getting nowhere fast on an automated rocking horse.
Moving to the second large hall, a display of ‘Unnatural History’ was revealed including grazing chicken nuggets, a Banksy swimming fish finger and Tweety Pie with an attitude. The experience was made all the more convincing by the effective use of light and sound.
The Bristol Museum temporary display gallery had been adorned with Banksy artworks, some old and some new… showing images as you would not expect.
Exhibits and displays on other floors in the museum had also been enhanced. Banksy had introduced the War of the Worlds to one master, added a penis to the museum’s stalactite collection and a stuffed muzzled lamb to the natural history display. The dinosaur vomit could have been real!
The Bristol Museum upper galleries had become a treasure hunt for Banksy enthusiasts. Some hunters stopping to look at the other work from the permanent collection, others racing by and seeing the world through a view finder. Banksy had pulled the crowds into Bristol Museum, but it is a shame that so much else that Bristol museum had to offer was ignored by many.
The final gem was ‘Jerusalem’ by Tawfiq Salsaa. A scale model of Jerusalem carved from olive wood, purchased by Banksy and value added with the addition of soldiers and a lonely terrorist.
The Bristol Museum exhibition staff had embraced the role of authority figures that Banksy had highlighted the shortcomings in for so long, being keen to stop the queue inexplicably, tell off visitors if they looked too closely at an exhibit, used flash photography (despite a complete absence of signage to that effect) and had loud conversations on intercoms with volumes set at an excessive level – well, I suppose it kept them off the streets. Or perhaps the over enthusiastic Bristol museum staff were part of the exhibition!
The Banksy exhibition was fantastic, although in several instances quality control had lapsed in favour of a weak joke.
The exhibition entitled ‘Banksy Versus Bristol Museum’ ran until August 2009. Bristol Museum is located on Queens Road BS8 1RL.
“He’s like Batman only better” A Bristol resident.