Banksy versus Bristol Museum – joint partnerships and sacrifice

Shopperbanksy Having spent 2.5 hours queuing to get into the exhibition last Friday I may as well extract some value from the wait. The tie up between the graffiti artist Banksy and the city which he grew up in and defaced regularly as he acquired his skills is worthy of consideration. Largely because of the sacrifices both parties made in order to enter the partnership. Most partnerships are obviously so selfserving they aren't particularly interesting.

Clearly from Bristol's point of view Banksy was for a long time a menace who cost them money. He wasn't alone and whatever opinions Banksy may hold of graffiti – those who put graffiti out in public places in Bristol still face prosecution. So I presume would anyone who turned up at the Museum and sought to annotate any of the work on display there.  So Bristol Council and their Museum face the charge of double standards -if you're a graffiti artist you're not welcome in Bristol(unless you can pull a crowd)

Rabbitbanksy Banksy on the other hand could be accused of selling out. Putting anarchic material into the museum is hardly a revolutionary act if done with the active co-operation of the curators of the museum. Even if he did sell them the exhibition for a pound, and demand the CCTV footage of him assembling the exhibtion be destroyed. This is just posturing. His works will sell for even more than they would have done before the exhibition. His fame and notoriety are considerably enhanced. So a sell out then in more ways than one. 

Looking at the plus side – A regional museum has for the last 6 weeks had a quarter of a million visitors. With queuing times of up to 4 hours. Unimaginable for virtually any other artist I can think of let alone a regional museum. Many of whose exhibits were as boring as you would expect them to be. Except that the visitors had to go round the lot – just to check that they hadn't missed any Banksy jokes. So noting scores went through through the roof.  Banksy continues to make his trademark criticisms of consumerism, the desecration of public places by advertising hoardings, the corruption of art by the patronage of the rich, the powerful and the elitist art crowd, and the destruction of art by cliche and banality. And has put his message directly to a mass audience.

MJbanksy Waiting to start going round the exhibits proper I found myself by the neverland image complete with candles of remembrance. It was one of the most powerful exhibits for me because of the reaction of all those who saw it. Who got it instantly whatever their age and wherever they had come from. Michael Jackson is a global icon.  I would love to have known if the image was put in the exhibition prior or subsequent to his death. It was a brilliant way to drag the icon off the pedestal millions of cubic centimetres of publicity have place him on in the last 3 weeks.  This is exactly what art ought to do best – to challenge our values. And doing so without needing a handbook or a TV documentary to explain the artists intention. A perfect exhibition to take children because this style of art makes sense to them. Banksy's technique may be closer to the cartoonist than the fine artist but this is more than a collection of gags. It was interesting how selective the parodying was. There was plenty of dull material in the museum which could have been sent up very easily but his target wasn't the work of any other artists to hand. And the objects he features in his works are objects which I have not seen other artists use – largely because they relate to mass culture and not to a handpicked subset of objects suitable for artistic treatment. Mammothbanksy

Starvingbanksy  Is this a great exhibition? – dunno – I don't know enough about art. Is it a great piece of communication? Undoubtedly. And of marketing too despite Banksy's downer on consumerism. But this brief truce between a trickster and the establishment is a reminder that neither can properly operate without reference to one another.  Giving Banksy a platform is better than chasing him around the city with CCTVs. And giving permission to ask these questions is a reminder that these societal challenges are better put by artists than by journalists – the most conventional channel though less and less read. And to their shame these questions are almost never asked by commercial concerns ie brands. Which is why citizen journalism is racing in to fill the gap.  Its intriguing to ask which brands Banksy might have gone into partnership with – and what both parties would have gained from the tie up. I hadn't expected to see a civic authority take such a risk – fair play to them.



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