Review: Banksy Versus The Bristol Museum

Banksy Sign

Everybody’s talking about Banksy‘s new exhibition, Banksy Versus The Bristol Museum, which runs from today until August 31st. I went for the preview last night, and so I thought I’d write a little run-through of the show.

The first thing you see when you walk into the museum is indeed that recreation of Banksy’s Glastonbury Stonehenge, photos of which leaked on Thursday. For me, it was Banksy’s attempt at mocking cliched museum exhibits. At least, that’s what I hope it is meant to be.

Banksy Main Hall

The next room is the main hall (or whatever you want to call it) of the museum. As you can see, the centerpiece of this room is a burted out ice cream van with a melted ice cream cone. A bit like the burnt out ice cream van at Cans Festival. Along the sides of the room, where you might expect to see statues of Bristol’s most historic figures, there are sculptures of a woman carrying shopping bags and a Buddha wearing a cast (recreating this stencil). At first glance, some of them, particularly the Buddha and the David (as a suicide bomber) fit in perfectly with the museums regular exhibits. Upon closer inspection of course, the works are classic Banksy. Although I doubt Banksy actually had much to do with making this statues beyond coming up with the idea, they are some of my favorite pieces in the show.

Banksy Sculpture

More after the jump…

You may have heard from the BBC that there are about 30 works in the show that have been seen before. A good chunk of these are found in the Pet Store room. Apparently, this room normally has natural history exhibits with animals and the like, but those have been replaced with pieces from Banksy’s 2008 Pet Store show in New York. These works haven’t been shown before in the UK, and have to be seen in person to be appreciated. I could have watched for 10 minutes as two animatronic chicken nuggets fought over a serving of BBQ sauce. Some of the best pieces from the pet store are now in Bristol, including my personal favorite, the swimming fish sticks.

Banksy Fish Sticks

Banksy Stencils

Off of that room is the only room in the show which is explicitly full of Banksy’s work. While most of the rooms make at least some attempt to fit in with the norm and hide within the museum, this one small room has Banksy pieces covering all the possible wall space, and there is even a recreation of his workspace.

Banksy Room

The work here is much more typical of Banksy. There are a few stencils (personal fav is the grandmother and anarchist) which range in quality from awful (dorthy) to awesome. This room also has a few Crude Oil paintings and some paintings that are based on original images. Everybody but myself seemed to love this very timely painting of the House of Lords, but I think the metaphor has been made one too many times. I much preferred this life sized painting of a rickshaw driver.

Banksy Rickshaw

The most fun part of the show is finding all the little things that Banksy has hidden in with the museum’s regular collection. I don’t want to give too much away but there are some fantastic Crude Oil paintings (the ones where he parodies or defaces famous paintings) mixed in with the regular collection.

Banksy Slave

The best of these was BY FAR the Damien Hirst spot painting. Or maybe it’s just because I really can’t stand Hirst. The important thing is, this is an original Hirst. Not only does Banksy greatly improve this painting, but he makes a great point in doing so: Banksy’s been getting his work buffed for years, and it is about time the same thing happens to Hirst’s “art.”

Banksy Hirst

And of course, Banksy does his classic move of hiding little things in the middle of real exhibits and making you look for them. I’ll just share one here, because it is probably much more fun to find these on your own.

Banksy Lamb

I’m headed back to Bristol for another look at this show once the queues calm down a bit, but my initial impression is that this is a cool new direction for Banksy’s work. His classic stencil work was probably the weakest thing there. I really enjoyed the show, and I’ll be taking a group of friends with me when I go back to show it to them as well.

And on the subject of this being a taxpayer funded and council sanctioned exhibit? I don’t see the problem. Banksy still works on the street every once and a while, and this new venue gives him a chance to expose his work to an entirely new audience. It also allows the museum to expose itself to young people. The way I see it, this show is a gift to the City of Bristol.

On a related note, I’d never been to Bristol before yesterday, and Cyclops and LL Brainwashed of Burning Candy were kind enough to show me a few pieces of street art and graffiti, so thanks guys. Everybody should go search for their work on flickr.

All photos from Sabeth718