The mysterious undercover graffiti artist Banksy has infiltrated Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery this week and filled it with more than 100 of his iconoclastic creations. The grand vaulted Georgian galleries more used to hosting renaissance and impressionist masterpieces now give way to Banksy’s modern, humorous and controversial creations. Visitors to the exhibition, which is free and lasts until August, will be greeted in the foyer by a burnt out ice cream van, the remains of giant melted cornet running down its roof. A dummy riot policeman wearing a balaclava and a badge saying Metropolitan Peace is making his getaway from the carnage on a fairground horse. Exhibits have been infiltrated into the galleries alongside the museum’s own works of art. In one typically Banksian pun Dorothy and Toto from the Wizard of Oz are painted on a sheet of rusting iron with a speech bubble saying: “I don’t think we’re on canvas any more.”
There are digs at contemporary culture, including an original Damian Hirst spot painting defaced by a rat with a paint roller. A stencilled picture shows a starving African orphan holding a bucket saying: “Peaches Geldof – please give generously.”
The installations have had a mixed reception. It’s hard to be neutral about Banksy- you love him or hate him. The exhibition made me think of the shock waves that Jesus would have created amongst the religious establishment as he took his parables and teachings to people and place that were frowned upon by the religious establishment of the day. Banksy makes us think about what art is and how it connects with the reality of life, politics, values and popular culture: Jesus does much the same thing in relation to God. He seemed to be out of place in the synagogue and temple- always making shock waves and causing controversy. He also connected through humour, irony, vivid imagery and also kept his identity under wraps for most of his ministry and was hugely popular. Some of our churches have taken on the style and feel of an establishment art gallery and our Banksy Christ seems to have left the building for good. The tragic thing is that some our Christian curators seem really pleased.