Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Marry me, Banksy. (The nation's sweetheart.)

Everyone loves Banksy, don't they? Well apart from the people that don't I guess and they do exist.

(Window Hanger - Banksy, located on Park Street, Bristol, one of three of his most well known hometown murals to have been attacked with blue paint recently.)

There certainly didn't seem to be many haters about when I visited Bristol earlier this week to catch the very end of the Banksy vs Bristol Museum exhibition which has run over the Summer attracting capacity crowds daily.

(Unemployed Ronald McDonald.)

Set up in secrecy and only announced publicly the day before it opened, love him or hate him, this was probably a once in a lifetime chance for many people to see so much work by Banksy in one place. And thousands have taken that opportunity. The day before I got there, the queues to get into the free show had been up to five hours in waiting time long.

(This was only the middle bit of the queue which then continued round a corner onto another street.)

In Banksy's words, "This is the first show I've ever done where taxpayers' money is being used to hang my pictures up rather than scrape them off." In actual fact - he had only charged the museum a nominal fee of £1 to show his work, insisting only that any CCTV footage of him installing and dismantling the work be destroyed. I heard he is also covering the costs of extra museum staff and insisted there was minimal merchandise on sale in the museum (only a set of postcards and some posters were available.) Meanwhile the Oxfam charity shop directly across the road from Bristol Museum had received a donation of a load of Banksy merchandise from a local "mystery" benefactor with which they raised £15,000 for their charity.

(Who could it be?)

It was hard not to enjoy the atmosphere - people were even doing Mexican waves in the queue later in the day to pass the time (I got there at 7am and got off lightly with only two and a half hours of waiting as the museum sensibly opened its doors early instead of the advertised 10am.)

Whether Banksy has really done much for anyone else in the outsider art world other than himself, it's hard to tell. True, in the UK, some urban artists are benefiting from a raised profile due to the "Banksy effect" and a raised value of their canvases and prints to boot. Even some of the major British auction houses have dabbled in urban art sales although they possibly had their fingers burnt because after some huge initial profits, in the last sale to feature Banksy and cohorts, a lot of stuff failed to shift.

But I'm not sure a large percentage of visitors to this exhibition would be checking many other street art names out just yet. The grannies, the teenagers, the young kids, the thirty somethings and the inbetweens. They just wanted to see some Banksys. And see Banksys they did. A lot of the work on display was new, but there was a cage - possibly representing the Banksy studio in a tongue in cheek way - with some of his classic stencils on display. And some of his iconic work was in evidence too.

(The artists' pad?)

(Ghetto rat.)

(Lesbian Queen Victoria. Cool to see these stencils.)

(Elephant rocket launcher.)

There was a radio debate being broadcast on the validity of Banksy's art, local councillors defending decisions to paint over his murals and the like. One thing is certain, everyone has an opinion on him.

(Kansas canvas.)

All in all I had fun visiting the show. I think when Banksy gets it right he is spot on and I love his attention to detail. Some of the pieces were great, however some were pretty lazy.

(Poor panda.)

(Improved Spot Painting - Damien Hirst and Local Artist. This made me chuckle.)

(Di Faced Tenners - Banksy of England, featuring the phrase "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the ultimate price." I think these are one of Banksy's best pieces.)

(Cosmetic loving rabbit.)

(Detail from House of Commons.)

It's true that at times you are tempted to think - I could have come up with that. But you didn't. The guy has tapped into the nations' sense of humour saying the kind of things in his work, that most of us often think, but being British, don't want to say them out loud.

Dotted around the museum in its permanent collection you could play hunt the Banksy too.

(Fine bone chillum.)

(Fluffy kitten plate.)

He obviously had a lot of fun in the entrance hall with some of its sculptures.

The centrepiece was a burned-out graffiti covered ice cream van, perhaps the last laugh by someone that the Bristol authorities would, not so long ago, dearly have loved to have caught and prosecuted for vandalism. And probably thrown away the key while they were at it.

On the whole I enjoyed the show and judging by the amount of money left in the perpex donations box, so did most people.

(Adapted from The Mild, Mild West rioting Ted.)

Funnily enough, I got a promotional envelope through my door today, with a quotation by Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory printed on it. It said "A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men." And I can't think of a better way to sum the whole Banksy phenomena and this exhibition, up.

(Animated fish finger in goldfish bowl.)

I think however, as usual, Banksy should have the last word.

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