Banksy comes in off the streets
Guerrilla artist stuns his home city with secret takeover of Bristol gallery. Arifa Akbar reports
Saturday 13 June 2009
The rumour began days ago: Banksy, the anonymous street artist and prodigal son of Bristol, was going back home to stage a secret show.
Banksy's PR machine had put out word that the world's most anonymously famous – and wealthiest – graffiti artist would be erecting his "biggest UK exhibition" right under the noses of the authorities in the city of his birth, which is already dotted with his murals. His fans predicted a show next to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, or maybe in the city centre's disused Woolworths, after a recent stunt in which he had set up a pet shop-cum-exhibition space on a New York street corner.
Yesterday, he ended the speculation by unveiling what was a homage to his home town in the City Museum and Art Gallery, which was nothing if not ironic given his lifetime's insistence that his work was made solely for the streets.
Banksy replaced many of the museum's artefacts with 100 of his own works which included a burnt out ice-cream van, a portrait featuring MPs as chimpanzees in the House of Commons, and a still-life of flowers in a bin, scrawled with graffiti which reads: "This is where I draw the line."
The most sensational aspect of the escapade was that Banksy had managed to curate the show without the museum's top level of management knowing what he was doing.
For most of Banksy's fans this "stunt" was little short of momentous. After a lifetime of daubing the streets with his humorous, outrageous artwork, or sneaking works into the world's major museums to pin up alongside masterpieces (as was the case in the Louvre in Paris when he attached a smiling Banksy Mona Lisa to a wall near Da Vinci's original), he had now brought his work indoors, to the heart of the artistic establishment.
Admittedly, a lot of the exhibits were tongue in cheek creations or self-referential pieces of art that referred to his lifetime's reluctance to present his work in gilt frames. His outdoor work has created immense controversy in Bristol at times, with council officials whitewashing some of Banksy's original creations from the city's walls amid public protests. In a statement, Banksy said: "This is the first show I've ever done where taxpayers' money is being used to hang my pictures up rather than scrape them off".
The exhibition and its location had been a closely guarded secret since last October, with just a couple of officials aware that it would be taking place. Kate Brindley, the museum's director, was one of those who knew about the show and admitted she had taken a risk in allowing it to be staged. "We ran a bit of a risk but we know that it was just the right thing for the city. He's our homegrown hero," Ms Brindley said.
Plans for the show had been kept from Bristol City Council officials until yesterday, a day before it was unveiled to the public, free of charge. Banksy had visited the museum to oversee it but staff were unaware of his identity, which has never definitively been revealed in spite of an exposé last year claiming he was a public school educated artist named Robin Gunningham.
This is Banksy's first "museum" exhibition, although his artworks have sold at auctions to collectors including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Arts & Ents blogs
Owen Howells is a DJ/producer who grew up in Australia but was born in the UK. He came back to the U...
Fancy seeing a play about serial killers? How about inviting a funeral director into your home for a...
There are a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refl...
Coronation Street triumphs over EastEnders at British Soap Awards 2013
The Freemasons' Code: Dan Brown reveals the message that told him the door to the lodge is open
Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
Film review: The Hangover Part III (15)
- 1 Pope Francis: Being an atheist is alright as long as you do good
- 2 Man and woman arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder victim of Woolwich machete attack, named as Drummer Lee Rigby
- 3 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 4 Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.