First Night: Banksy, City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol
A new vision of the future – weird, warped and wonderful
Saturday 13 June 2009
Bristol's global graffiti export returns to his home town, nine years after his last solo exhibition here, to doff his cap to the place it all started.
The Bristle lot are all thrilled, of course, as the queues winding down Queens Road testify. Inside, the first thing to strike you – in keeping with Banksy's style – is the scale, audacity and chutzpah of the thing. This exhibition was kept hush-hush from all but a few until a few days ago: Banksy and his team installed the show in secrecy, with many of the museum's staff (and city council top brass) in the dark until the unveiling. It created a frisson in the city yesterday – not only had the Prodigal Son returned, but he'd slipped in the back door while we were all down the pub.
The sense of awe continues through the museum's well-heeled expanses. Areas that normally house fine art and sculpture have been hijacked and filled with a motley crew of props from Banksy's weird, warped and despairingly comic world. The centrepiece is a life-size ice cream van that has undergone a nightmarish transformation – the supersize cone on its roof has been upended, its panels liberally splattered with graffiti, and it sits in an urban wasteland of battered oil drums and discarded tyres. Not far away, a classical, alabaster beauty stands on a plinth – but this one sports a pencil bra and microshorts, swigs an alcopop and picks her kitten-heeled path through chips, fag packets and takeaway boxes.
Banksy jokes the exhibition is his vision of the future. If so, it's pretty bleak. The Banksy world, while making you laugh, can leave you queasy with its bleak, blasted amorality, its nihilistic urban decay, artifice, greed and putrefaction. But the fact the laughter comes first – what one critic termed his "red-nose rebellion" – is crucial. Clever visual jokes abound, pomposity is punctured everywhere. He has an unerring eye for the prosaic, holes in the utopia, the small print in the dream. A picture of a gorgeous Alpine landscape has its vertiginous snow-capped peak asterisked "subject to availability, for a limited period only". He also subverts great art: in his version of Millet's Gleaners, a peasant women has stepped out of frame for a quick fag, while Claude's Flight into Egypt has a garish hoarding boasting easyJet's Cairo deals. The same humour time and again, beautifully executed and judged. Is it art? I'm not sure. But it's striking, funny and memorable. And for sheer courage, both Banksy and the museum deserve acclaim.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Avengers: Age of Ultron: Nearly 700 German cinemas refuse to show movie
- 2 Donald Trump decides that Baltimore riots are Barack Obama's fault
- 3 X Factor in crisis as numbers of people auditioning plummets
- 4 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
- 5 Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
Fast & Furious 7 overtakes Frozen to become 5th highest grossing movie of all time
Poldark finale review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Avengers: Age of Ultron: Nearly 700 German cinemas refuse to show movie
Game of Thrones season 5: Episode 4 preview clip presents the Sand Snakes as HBO reveals new titles and synopses
The Visit: Watch terrifying trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia