‘the art world has gone absolutely crazy’
Brian Sewell on Banksy vs Bristol Museum

‘As far as I can tell the only thing worth looking at in most museums of art is all the schoolgirls on daytrips with the art departments’

 On Thursday 11 June 2009 staff at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery turned up for work to find the museum transformed, the collection ‘remixed’ and their beautiful building handed over to  Banksy. In Banksy: The Bristol Legacy, the curator, critics, the public and others look at what it meant to the gallery, the city and the art world.

It’s said 300,000 people saw the show in 12 weeks. By 9am the queue snaked round the block; six hours waiting for some. Banksy versus Bristol Museum was the biggest show in a provincial British gallery – ever.

In Banksy: The Bristol Legacy we ask how and why it happened, we look at the history of street protest, the love-hate relationship between street art and the establishment and ask the question, is it art? There are voices of dissent, reverence and cool questioning –and all of them are fascinating, entertaining and eloquent.

Curator Kate Brindley describes how it felt handing over the keys of  the city’s cherished building and valuable contents to Banksy’s hooded crew, and how her team, the city and the public  responded.

Editor Paul Gough, Professor of Fine Arts at University of  the West of England, paints an evocative picture of clandestine conversations, of press attempts to get hold of  correspondence, of the surprise of seeing a Guantanamo-type figure in the pilot seat of the Museum’s much-loved (and impossible to reach) boxplane. He also describes the massive interest in the book and traces the tensions that linger, and occasionally erupt, under the carapace of the city.

There is a potted biography of the world’s most elusive artist by veteran correspondent John Hudson.

Critic David Lee assesses Banksy’s artistic merits (and yes, Banksy has seen the text)

‘The main reason I didn’t visit the Bristol exhibition is that I’m interested in art and when visiting an art gallery this is what I expect to see.’

Eugene Byrne, a writer who few can match for his granular reading of the city, examines the immediate impact of the show and the artist’s ambivalent relationship with ‘official’ Bristol.

‘Thirty years ago, official Bristol persecuted graffiti artists with the full vigour of the law and the juvenile courts. Nowadays Bristol uses street art to market a cool and edgy image to everyone from tourists to businesses and potential undergraduates.’

Cultural impresario and historian Andrew Kelly, aware that many consider the artist to be little more than a witty one-line ‘quality vandal’, celebrates his more generous attributes.

Steve Poole, Director of the UWE’s Regional History Centre, flies a flag for historical agitators, in ‘Drawn in chalk, but graffiti all the same: street protest in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Bristol’.

Katy Bauer describes the fall out from Banksy’s gift to the Bristol community of a ‘Tesco Value’ petrol bomb ‘we’d loved him for it this long, to start getting irritated now that he was wafting around our own back yard would have been churlish’.

Art Curator Kath Cockshaw champions street art and describes how the Royal West of England Academy staged ‘Crimes of Passion’, when ‘Filthy Luker’s trafficstopping giant inflatable green tentacles’ waved nonchalantly in the wind’.

Lawyer John Webster asks if we should be protecting street art with ‘Listed’ status and economists Anthony Plumridge and Andrew Mearman add up the figures to assess the economic impact on Bristol of the Banksy phenomenon. Maria Bower takes the public pulse in  ‘Thank you, Mr Banksy’ and publisher John Sansom visits the 2011 Bristol street art festival to wonder: have the Outsiders started to bond with the Establishment? and, more pertinently, what’s left after the crowds have gone?

Dr Anna Farthing asks the question, who won? To find out, contact us for more.