Controversial graffiti artist Banksy returns home for his first collaborative exhibition with the artistic authorities.

Bristol born Banksy has been stencilling his illegal art on street corners since the 1990’s. However to the majority of the art world his identity remains unknown. Planned since October the exhibition was kept so secret that a few days before the opening, staff were sent home believing the museum was merely undergoing refurbishment.

Banksy’s partnership is certainly a surprise. Banksy has been cheating the establishment for years, famously sneaking in to post numerous fakes in museums. But whatever the reasons behind his change of heart, it must have been fun for him to have a whole museum at his disposal. I waited an hour for the main exhibition, but in fact Banksy had been all over, leaving people to hunt for strange oddities amongst the painted pots and Chinese vases. Moreover Banksy had taken it upon himself to update many of the museum antiquities. A cabinet containing an ancient stuffed fox, for example, had a new addition: a blood stained sign announcing ‘fight the prejudice, fight the ban’.

Banksy definitely has a satirical sense of humour. Amongst an impressive selection of animatronics visitors found a caged fur coat wagging its tail and a battery of chicken dippers dipping themselves in sauce. The exhibition came with a warning: ‘Contains scenes of a childish nature some adults may find disappointing’. Well, yes, a penis amongst a cabinet of stalagmites and stalactites might be described as childish! However I can’t remember the last time an art exhibition made me smile. It was the painting disrupted with UFO’s, the modern day angel with a cigarette in hand, and the youths sneaking up to graffiti Thomas the Tank Engine that gave visitors a break from the more serious images, and saved visitors from the normal pretentions found at certain exhibitions.

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then Banksy has written volumes. Mockery of the police force, CCTV cameras, and the conventions of traditional art all come as the occupational views of a graffiti artist, and many of the artworks were pretty scathing on these points. When Banksy painted on the Palestinian segregation wall reporters laughingly suggested that for a graffiti artist the large blank wall was too much of a temptation. But the image of two fat tourists on a rickshaw hauled by a small child, or the eviction notice posted on the museum’s antique Romany caravan had the potential to hit you where it hurts.

It was definitely worth queuing for an hour for. The exhibition was free, and photography was allowed, quite a rarity in itself for an exhibition. Then again Banksy’s art has always been free of charge, part of the urban landscape of countless cities. Despite the varying opinions on graffiti, Banksy is no mindless yob in a hoody scribbling on walls. The museum gift shop had taken the opportunity to highlight publications depicting the work of other Bristol graffiti artists, mostly specialising in colourful cartoon creatures or lurid bubble letters. Banksy’s work however has the mark of an artist. His stencil work is intricate and detailed.

With such a transformation of the museum, Banksy wins a certain victory in the Banksy versus Bristol Museum battle. However Bristol Museum hasn’t done too badly either. Bristol City Council might spend over £100,000 removing graffiti, but by supporting Banksy the rebel artist, Bristol Museum has seen visitor numbers soar.

By Anne Moore

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