Saturday, 13 June 2009
I went and visited the Banksy exhibition at the Bristol Museum today. What a contrast to the rainy Sunday only a few weeks ago when we visited the museum and waltzed in that the exhibition drew a huge crowd and the wait is just under an hour to get in. I definitely felt it was worth the wait and as a huge fan of Bristol Museum I was keen to see how the exhibition had been set up.
This is a superbly put together exhibition, in so far as the gallery feels like it has been taken over and the production values and arrangement of the artwork/installations has been well thought out. The artist’s works are collected in two galleries and the main foyer, but also interspersed throughout the galleries’ collection. This is the clever part about the exhibition and says far more about the willingness of the directors of the museum to take a gamble than what the artist delivers. The viewer must search out the paintings that have been scattered throughout, some more obvious than others. In doing so it makes you look at all the museum has to offer. This in turn makes you see that Bristol Museum holds a wealth of the beautiful, bizarre and fascinating. It also shows that it holds key pieces that reflect on social times and propaganda far more effectively than Banksy’s works.
Banksy uses the space to deliver his characteristic satirical works. I feel that whilst many work at the level of a cartoon they fail to deliver beyond that. The topics dealt with are already in the minds of those that would be viewing (this is a Stuff White People Like affair if ever there was one). Bristol has a far from savoury history yet no more is mentioned about the slave trade than a quip in the (very funny) pamphlet that accompanies the exhibition. Politicians as monkeys are obvious targets. Banksy demonstrates ingenuity and wit in his work yet he needs to reassess his targets if he is to achieve any gravitas. So whilst installations addressing food, surveillance, cosmetics, fur and consumerism rise a smile they feel no more than that. Issues dealing with the police are unlikely to trouble any of the museum’s patrons and I dare say many would feel that there should be more police on the streets.
Bristol Museum have scored a wonderful PR success with this exhibition and whoever thought of putting Banksy’s pieces throughout the museum should be congratulated for their bravery and more importantly for the correct assumption it will make visitors explore throughout. Thoroughly recommended at all times, this exhibition is well worth it for a reassessment of the museum alone.