Monday, June 15, 2009

Banksy vs Bristol

So I went to the first day of the Banksy exhibition at the Bristol museum. Arrived 20 minutes before it opened and joined an enormous queue; some people had been there for three hours, the idiots. But it's not often Bristol gets a world premiere and Banksy has been amusing us with his brilliant graffiti for a decade.

I was going to write a review, but it seems that the Times’s Rachel Campbell Johnston has said pretty much everything I was going to say, and better. She’s spot on, if you want to read her.

A nightmarishly real animatronic greets you as you enter...

… but otherwise it’s mostly gags, beautifully done and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, especially when they’re tucked in amongst the museum’s permanent collection. I enjoyed Millet’s Gleaner taking a fag break.

But once you’ve got the joke the artwork holds little further interest. Where Banksy goes political with his paintings and vandalisms, the messages are pretty trite (Rich West vs Third World, MPs as chimps, animal exploitation). He’s vandalised a real Damien Hirst spot painting, which is funny, but displayed it next to Weschke’s extraordinary Leda and the Swan. The contrast illuminates Banksy’s shortcomings as an artist. Most of his pieces could be described in words: you get it then you can forget it. Leda and the Swan is haunting, uncanny and its effect is indescribable. Proper art, in other words.

Of course, Banksy sidesteps the problem by being fully aware of his own shortcomings. But the best of his stencil graffiti was proper art; it stopped you in the street and made you think. The messages were puzzling, ambiguous, suprising. Perhaps the closest Banksy gets in this exhibition is the painting of an anarchist being fussed over by his mother, which is oddly touching and vaguely disturbing.

Otherwise this exhibition is basically a fun afternoon out. Nothing wrong with that; it's well worth the trip. Everyone wants to see it; my colleagues are going to take their kids ‘when it quietens down a bit’. Banksy is fantastically mainstream in Bristol. Most of his art here won’t last, I suspect, but the best of his brilliant graffiti (The Mild Mild West, the Naked Man on Park Street and the Thekla ghost) probably will.


worm said...

I must confess that I lost all interest in going to this exhibition the very second I clapped eyes on the awful painting of the house of commons filled with monkeys

Banksy's devillishly high-brow thought process:

1) think of a like, waay uncool establishment figure, like the rozzers or Maggie T.

2) give them the face of a monkey.

3) repeat ad nauseam, stopping only to deposit vast sums of cash in bank account.

Brit said...

It's actually quite a lovely painting, and huge. But yes,that's pretty much the level of political sophistication I'm afraid.

Nightwatchstate said...

I attended this exhibition and was entirely enraptured by Leda and the Swan, and it's prompted me into taking my own teetering steps into figure drawing. I managed to miss the anarchist/mother fussover painting - Thanks for putting it up. Ironically I stumbled on this blog searching for prints of the Weschke work.

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Banksy’s art has struck a chord with a huge group of people. They span generations and socioeconomic barriers. They are from all countries, all professions, and all walks of life.
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