Art and Entertainment

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Ben Birchall/AP
An art piece by
Banksy showing a graffiti strewn ice cream van installed at Bristol Museum.

Street Artist Banksy Turns Bristol Museum Upside Down, but With Permission

June 16, 2009 10:00 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Thousands came to the Bristol City Museum this weekend to find most of the museum’s original pieces removed and replaced by an exhibit of more than 100 of Banksy’s pieces.

Banksy Secretly Returns to Bristol, Brings Spray Paint

In a return to what some believe to be his hometown, street artist Banksy is showing an exhibit in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery that was, until Friday, kept a secret even from most of the museum staff and city council.

No one is entirely certain of Banksy's true identity. He is said to have gotten his start doing graffiti and stencil art in the city of Bristol in the 1990s, according to the BBC. The artist, now known worldwide for his stencil graffiti style, depicting criticisms of war, consumerism and authority, was supposedly present during the installation of the new exhibit; however, no one at the museum has actually met the artist.

After word came out that Banksy would be exhibiting at the Bristol City Museum, fans traveled from all over the country to see the show. In the first two days, more than 8,000 people came to see the exhibit, more than eight times what the museum would normally see on a weekend, according to the Bristol Evening Post.

The exhibit, called "Banksy versus Bristol Museum," features more than 100 pieces from the artist; many of the museum’s artifacts had also been removed and replaced by altered look-alikes from Banksy. One fan described the exhibit to the Evening Post: “It is a disturbing comment on the way we live, the way we sleepwalk through life destroying things we should take more care of.” A preview of the exhibit can be seen at Banksy’s official Web site.

Past art installations, graffiti, and pranks from Banksy

Banksy has had a number of legitimate art installations over the last decade. In Los Angeles in 2006 his exhibit, "Barely Legal," featured an elephant painted head to toe to match the wallpaper of a living room in the installation. According to the BBC, the Los Angeles exhibit, like many of his others, was kept under close guard until just before opening.

In October of 2008, Banksy caused a stir on the other U.S. coast when he installed a “pet store” in New York City. The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill featured robotic “animals” such as chicken nuggets, hot dogs and CCTV cameras. In the weeks leading up to the opening of the exhibit, according to the Independent, passersby had thought a real pet store was opening, as they’d caught glimpses of what they thought to be exotic pets.

Banksy has been known to walk into museums in broad daylight and hang up his own pictures; he has done so a number of times at famous European museums such as the Tate. Often the works he hangs look similar to the art already adorning museum walls, but contain a small element to give them away (such as a toxic waste barrel, a gas mask, or other element that contrasts with the subject matter and time). According to NPR, in 2005, wearing a bearded disguise, Banksy hung his own work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Art Museum.

Key Player: Banksy

Banksy has been creating street art since the early 1990s, starting in the town of Bristol. His stencil graffiti work often depicts stark contrasts between the lighthearted and the grim to illustrate his thoughts of war, poverty, race relations, consumerism and government. His street art, while often put up illegally, in some cases remains in place by demand of local residents. Banksy is also known for pulling pranks, such as putting a blow-up doll of a Guantanamo bay prisoner within a ride at Disneyland, or replacing hundreds of copies of Paris Hilton’s debut album with a compilation of his own. In 2008, it was believed that Banksy’s identity had been revealed as Robin Gunningham, however, this has not been confirmed.

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