Bristol's naughtiest boy has been let loose on the city's main museum for the Bristol Museum vs. Banksy exhibition. The building was closed for 3 months whilst he secretly curated his own exhibition and turned the entire place upside down in the process. It opened in June and so far around 200,000 visitors drawn from across the world have come to view, gawp and laugh. I don't think the museum staff quite expected such an explosion of interest.
I've seen quite a few Banksy originals on the streets of Bristol and was curious to see whether an exhibition in an 'establishment' venue would dent his political stance or sense of humour. I needn't have worried. Banksy has pretty much turned the museum into his own playground. As well as the rooms dedicated to his art, he's made 'additions' to pretty much every cabinet and wall elsewhere. I suspect the porcelain, maps, natural history and artwork have never been examined so closely by visitors. Even the exhibit to celebrate Darwin's bicentenary has had Banksy's own touch applied to it. In the art rooms, a sign which reads A Local Artist is a clue the picture next to it may not be one of the regular exhibits.
The queues are huge and NAH and I joined the one last Wednesday morning. We waited for nigh on 2 hours to get in - we were told later by one of the staff the record's nearly 3 hours so far. The time passed really quickly though as we got nattering to a charming family from Dublin behind us. Waiting really only served to heighten our anticipation and the exhibition itself is free.
The picture gives you a bird's eye view of the main hall. Don't be fooled by the statues down the sides. I didn't give them a glance at first. Then I noticed the one at the bottom right's called The Angel of The North and the items round her feet are sculpted ice cream cones and litter. Yes, all the sculptures are Banksy's as is the ice cream van, which doubles up as the museum's Information Point for the duration. Just in front of the queue on the right is a marvellous disclaimer saying the views of the artist might not coincide with that of the museum's, plus the wonderful sentence:
Please be aware that some of the historic relics now on display throughout the museum are fakes.
The museum's guide has also been 'adapted' for the show and ends with: PG Contains scenes of a childish nature some adults may find disappointing.
NAH and I weren't disappointed, nor were the dozens of visitors of all ages I saw going around the exhibition with huge grins on their faces. In one of the main rooms stuffed full of Banksy pictures, there's an insight into the methods he uses out on the streets. There's a workshop containing little sketches of ideas, full blown stencils, spray paint and spattered cans. In the middle of it all he's placed a pixellated 'self-portrait'. There's even some preliminary sketches of the exhibition's itself, including one of the room you're standing in at the time with the legend underneath which says:
Call and see if this is possible.
Well it was possible and it's totally marvellous. Whatever you may think about graffiti art - and we had a bit of a debate on it last year - I defy you not to come away from this exhibition without having had fun and your perceptions changed a little. In fact, I spent the next couple of hours going around Bristol expecting every sign and hoarding to have been changed into something else. And I did find a few examples to show you another time.
The exhibition is open 10-5 every day until 31st August, though the hours may be extended until 8pm on Wednesdays. I'm going again on August 8th with my friend H: it's that good. The link also has a tempting trailer to show you what you might be missing.
There's more Bouncing B's today over at the ABC Wednesday blog.