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Published: August 7th 2009
Alcohol aids appreciation of art .
We queued for 3 hours with a couple of cans of local cider - it seemed appropriate as Bristol is the home of scrumpy and Bristol is the home of everyones favourite street artist, Banksy.
In the queue, his name was in the air like tropical mosquitos-
'Banksy...buzzbuzzbuzz... Banksy...buzzbuzz... Banksy'
The waiting crowd - teenage students with backpacks, little kids in raincoats, mums and dads on day-trips - were all hissing the name and asking who he was, chatting about what the images meant, relaying what they had read in the paper about Him.
His name is simple to say, and it sells newspapers - It has become an adjective for any subversive scribbling or stencilling and the word excites people young and old.
His work is hard to find, secretive, unexpected, even ignored.
In London Bridge, thousands of commuters passed by a wall with his picture of a girl losing a heart-shaped balloon on it until it was cleaned off a few years ago. Some would have smiled at it, a few may have taken solace in the message, but most would have ignored it.
And now its gone.
Which is why Banksy's gallery art sells for so much - its rare, and his best work has mostly been destroyed.
Which is also why there is a 2 hour wait to get into his free exhibition in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.
The secretive artist has filled up the stuffy Victorian museum with twists and turns of his own, and it was pulled off without the council knowing about it, only the director of the gallery was in on the trick.
The first room claims to be a retrospective of his work, even though they are mostly all new paintings and images, all gold framed and softly lit, as 'Art' is usually displayed.
The only remanents of his past work here are the old crumpled stencils and left overs of empty spraycans, piled up like a rough workshop along with a piped commentary from a radio show with members of the public denouncing him as a criminal, attacking him and his sick grafitti.
But there's no hatred from the mob today, these people have queued to look, love and laugh.
Banksy comes across as a comedian, and
his ability to conjure up a visual pun is outstanding.
As a comedian and a thought provoker, his one-line visual gags are easy to laugh at, but like all good jokes, they immediately impress their meaning on your brain:
Parliament being filled with monkeys, all hooting and fighting.
A holidaying couple take a snapshot of poverty stricken boy pulling their rickshaw.
Pictures that attack the art establishment, our love of CCTV and his fellow grafitti vandals are all subjected to a visual mockery.
He even gets a dig in at himself and our view of him as a badly drawn stickman asks us ''Are you serious about this?''
Laughter ripples around the room as we all file politely past the pictures, pausing to 'click, click' and then check the results on our digital cameras before shuffling along to the next piece.
'Street Art' exists through photography - most of us will never be lucky enough to see a fresh stencil painted on a wall, few of us will ever be able to afford the inflated prices of the originals and prints in established galleries, but many
of us have bought a print off a guy in a market of a painting on a wall that was daubed by one of these street artists.
Now in Bristol, we've all queued, and everyone wants their piece of Banksy, their very own slice of art scene. So 'click, click' goes the cameras in the queues, and we can all take home our memories, blow them up and maybe even sell them for ourselves down the market.
Outside the 'retrospective room', the rest of the museum has been twisted and undermined. Signs for the cafes have been changed, the information office is a burnt out ice cream van, and above our heads a Guatanamo escapee is flying the replica World War 2 flying machine.
Paintings, sculptures and installations are dotted around the rest of the museum, hidden and left for us to discover - a statue of Paris Hilton is mixed up with the hundred year-old grandfathers of Bristol city, protesting foxes mingle in amongst the glass cabinets of Victorian taxidermy and a painting of baby Jesus reaching for an ipod is slipped between Old masters.
Some of the pieces have been transported from other shows,
such as the 'Guerilla pet shop' in New York last year. Cages of chicken nuggets strut and peck in cages and wriggling hot dogs worm around their pens. Pretty bunny rabbits apply make-up infront of vanity mirrors. Funny and creepy yet slightly annoying.
We are forced to explore the museum, to unearth our own 'Banksys' in amongst the permanent displays. No-one is quite sure what is a 'Banksy' and what isn't, people are laughing at a bust of Charles Darwin, puzzling over quarzite displays or musing old oil paintings.
In attacking the Establishment, he's actually bought our attention to it.
I examined the Chinese ceramics for ages until I spotted a surreptitious rat hidden amonst the traditional display and ready to start his damage.
I re-ignited my enjoyment of Futurist paintings while strolling round the permanent collection of paintings. To see these one-off objects in the flesh, brushstrokes booming out at you, colours colliding together rather than looking at a photgraph lying static in a book or flat on a print is refreshing and exciting.
And I wasn't the only one - the punters walking around the galleries were looking, reading, thinking, rather than clicking, clicking, clicking. The
crowds were still shuffling along, but the cameras were clinking less and people were looking, thinking, taking it all in.
Photographs can never replace the physicality of Art - the smell, the shadows, the size of these pieces. Wether its a 21st century grafitti artist, or a 400 hundred year old religious painting, galleries and museums were never meant stuffy and dull, but to rouse the imagination and inspire new generations to go on and create and explore.
The travel writer Paul Theroux said ''Ignoring cameras is good for the eyes. A picture is worth only a thousand or so words.''
We take what we can from the galleries, and people came to see a bit of Banksy, to experience it for themselves, to take a little of the magic away with them.
We took away pictures, but by being forced to look afresh at the permanent exhibitions we also took away more than we expected to.
Banksy made us laugh, we let our guard down and saw what had been there for years.
Our digital cameras 'click, clicked' what little they could take away for us.
Luckily for us, they always put
the Gift Shop near the Exit
We went for another drink, I think the scrumpy was getting to me...
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