Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Inside the Banksy versus Bristol Museum

Posted in Reviews by mingjiuntsai on October 7, 2009

There are two significant notices at the entrance of the exhibition, when you ‘finally’ enter the museum. One indicates that the exhibition is organised by an independent agency to work with Banksy, and the museum staff have had no form of contact with him. The other one says that ‘please notice some of the exhibited works are not genuine.’ These two notices are like the introduction of the exhibition showing you the interesting relationship between ‘Banksy’ and ‘Bristol Museum.’

As if entering a hilarious playing ground, there are an ice ream van, which is the Information, and ironical statues in the hall welcoming visitors. Looking at ‘David the suicidal bomber’ who is facing the ‘police on the electrical hobbyhorse,’ people seem cannot stop smiling. Then, you enter a room exhibits the Art of Banksy. It is like a Banksy blockbuster including his famous stenciling graffiti, oil paintings, sculptures and multi-media installations. After this dazzling room, you find yourself in a freak show. This hall exhibits the Unnatural History, which is written on the flyer, and in these big or small cages and glass boxes, indeed showing us the unnatural history. There are some complex expressions on visitors’ faces. They probably feel funny yet sad at the same time while looking at a tree of CCTV cameras, hams and sausages crawling in ecological boxes as if in a science museum, and Tesco frozen fish fingers swimming in the fish bowl.

There are 60% of the exhibited works are new and commissioned to this show, and works are all over the museum. People take the flyer as a map and start to play ‘hide and seek,’ trying to identify and locate those ‘genuine’ Banksy’s works. Some are easy to be recognized, a boat rolling out of the frame or a lady taking her rest for a cigarette in the harvest. All these appropriated paintings are written ‘unknown artist’ on labels. As for other placement-works, it is like a treasure hunting that always brings you a great pleasure, such as discovering the delicate ceramic dancing girl with a gas mask amongst the Boring Old Plates, a penis in a minerals cave or Banksy’s Anarchist rat sneaking in the Eastern Art.

The flyer is not only part of the show but also plays an important role to connect visitors, Banksy and the Museum, which can be seen as Banksy’s strategy to lead visitors having a complete tour around the museum. It might be, again, a kind of joke that Banksy tries to make about how people wander in the museum to look for his works rather than watch the original exhibited works. Anyhow, Banksy versus Bristol Museum is already a triumph to both Banksy and the Museum and leaves us a summer memory of ‘stolen art[1]’ in Bristol.

Time: June 13th – August 31st 2009

Venue: Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, Queen’s Road, Bristol, BS8 1RL


[1] From one of the exhibited work, a stela with carved inscription “The bad artists imitate, the great artists steal. Banksy.”


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