Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Banksy versus Bristol Museum and me

I just saw the best museum exhibit I have ever seen. Truly.

Banksy is a graiffiti artist in the UK, supposedly from Bristol. To be honest, I had never heard of him until I moved here (though I may have recognized some of his images), but he's a big deal here; anti-establishment, anarchist, etc.

Some people have been angry about his exhibit at Bristol's City Museum (perhaps the first where a museum has welcomed him as an exhibitor?), but crowds have been descending on Bristol (by the end of July numbers were at 200,000). The museum is right across from my former office, so every day I'd see the crowds and the press.

I kept intending to visit, but the lines were so long. I expected them to decrease as the exhibit continued, but with school holidays beginning in August, they've become even longer. Finally, I decided I had to just wait in line with everyone else. I knew I would regret not going, it's just too big a thing to skip. And especially now that I'm not working, I've been trying to get out of the house each week to try something new, to experience life a bit (I figure that's important for a writer).

So today instead of starting with writing, I walked to work with Phil and joined the line at 8:45. I was relived that it wasn't too bad, and luckily I had a good book (see the post below). The line was made up of all sorts of people, toddlers to elderly ladies sitting on the window ledges outside Brown's Cafe, white, black. The couple behind me had flown in from Belfast for the day, the woman next to me was a native Bristolian. Even mid-week, months into the exhibit, BBC2 was outside interviewing people. And by 10:15 I was walking into the entrance (which has been completely changed, now housing a burned-out ice cream truck in place of a reception desk and a sign saying "Welcome to the museum--now wash your hands."

Most of the exhibit is in the museum's regular exhibit room, a zoo of sorts ('unnatural history' it's called) is in the open space just outside, and other pictures and sculptures are scattered throughout the museum. The amount to see really amazed me. Some of the art is jokey and silly, and some truly moving. I laughed out loud at the pope statue with sado-masochist leather holding two lollipops in one hand, and my stomach clenched with the police officer in riot gear (metropolitan peace his uniform read) riding the rocking horse. Some of it I have to admit I didn't get (why is Ronald McDonald bloody and sitting like a wino outside the museum?) and others were only too obvious (the penis sculpture mixed in with the geology room's stalagmites and stalactites). Once I left the main exhibit area, I joined the groups of people wandering the museum. Some of the other art was hard to spot, like the seemingly ancient picture of the virgin Mary and Jesus sharing a small ipod's headphones. But I think that's part of the wonder of the exhibit. People were wandering around the museum, looking at everything, enjoying art for art's sake. But they were also questioning everything, discussing everything. "Is that a Banksy?" "That must be Banksy." "What do you think it means?" Even coming home, I still found myself looking twice at objects, debating truth. And isn't that great art that makes us question everything around us?

I'm definitely going to go again. I can't wait to see what else I spot, and I know I will be thinking about his images and their meanings for a while. Now the trick is to see if I can get Phil to come with me... And if you live anywhere near Bristol, really, don't miss this.

For some pictures of the exhibit and a great You Tube trailer.

A blog with more pictures.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Anne
    I am so glad you enjoyed it. It is very rare to see queues outside galleries except in London. People say I don't like art, I never go to art galleries but this exhibition's popularity shows that people are interested if the content is right.You forgot to say it is free to go in & that is thanks to a socialist government which fought hard to keep galleries free and accessible to all.


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