Thursday, 20 August 2009

Banksy v Museum

Before going away to India I organised a little surprise for May that we could both enjoy on my return. When we saw the fuss about Banksy secretly taking over Bristol museum for the summer we said "we must go to that", so I booked train tickets and a one night stay in the Hotel du Vin Bristol via an Asperity "Great Mates" offer of £69 B&B. I told May to pack an overnight bag and be home from work by 5pm on the Friday and then bundled her onto the bus down to the station. At the station she was certain we were headed for London and she remained pleasingly puzzled for the rest of the journey. Only when we disembarked in Bristol did she put it all together and realise that we'd come for Banksy.

The Hotel du Vin Bristol was excellent, we checked in and were personally guided up to our lovely room. The bedroom was large and well appointed and the bathroom had a freestanding bath and huge wet room style shower. As I'd landed from India that morning, I was flagging by this point and rather than going out to eat we ordered some delicious room service (mussels for May, pork Milanese for me) and retired. In the morning I felt rather smug as for the first time in my life I was the first person into the breakfast room. As we ate we eyeballed the rival couples as they came in and started playing "guess who's going to Banksy". As we checked out, it transpired that seemingly everyone from the HdV was headed for Banksy which gave me a nice sense of belonging to a slightly smug, luxury hotel and culture loving set of people.

We were out of the hotel a little later than we'd planned, so we got to the museum at 09:45 which turned out to be a little late. The doors open at 10am, but by the time we arrived the queue was already ballistic. I think we'd overestimated the exhibition waning in popularity and underestimated the effect of being there on a Saturday. As we looked for the back of the queue, we got our first taste of the takeover on spotting a disheveled Ronald McDonald perched on a ledge way up high above the door forlornly clutching a half-empty bottle of spirits.

We ended up queueing for 2 hours 20 minutes, but it wasn't too arduous as the queue was incredibly well managed and everyone was very friendly. When we arrived the queue was split into 3 sections, a short section along the pavement, a long section of wiggling barriers down a closed road and then the queue into the museum. To prevent the queue from blocking the frontage of shops and restaurants, there's a gap between the first and second queues and you need a stamp on your hand to from the second queue to get into the first. Helpfully there's an ice cream van integrated into the queue and also lot of helpful signs giving you an indication of how much time you have left to wait.

On entry you're given a Banksyfied museum guide to help you find the "boring old plates" and "dead things in boxes". In the exhibition there are 3 large rooms given over totally to Banksy works and then other pieces interspersed with the museum's normal exhibits. This works really well as you end up experiencing the museums impressive collection almost by stealth as you play hunt the Banksy. Banksy's work is subversive, relevant, witty, laugh-out-loud funny and often very close to the bone. His art is deliciously immediate, but sometimes forgettable - there were some very memorable pieces but I'm not sure how many of the 111 on display I could tell you about in detail. My personal highlight was the insightful room of Banksy's stuff containing sketches, plans, cut-outs, photos and spray cans; the picture below was inspired by a newspaper clipping which had a photo of a group of riot police looking stern in a field, the telling scribble on the clipping read "make them skip".

Picture used under creative commons, taken by jo92

We spent about 2 and a half hours in the exhibition and I was struck by just what a clever exhibition it is. It's turned Bristol into a must-visit destination this summer and also highlighted how good Bristol museum is even without any Banksy work in it. The real genious is the way the way in which the Banksy pieces are interwoven with the permanent collection, inviting you to learn about dinosaurs, geology, chinese history and more as you search out the Banksy touches.

The exhibition runs until August 31st, so stop reading this now, grab your best queueing boots and go.

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