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Archive for the ‘Cultcha’ Category

The Sebastian Guinness Gallery on Burlington Road (just round the corner from Mespil Road’s eponymous hotel) is currently playing host to a short and typically saccharine-sweet exhibition of David LaChapelle photography. Well known for his gaudy, hypersurreal celebrity portraits, ad campaigns and fashion editorials, the majority of LaChapelle’s work drips off the screen in vivid hues and varying amounts of raunch, kitsch, campery and bling – in some instances, all at once.

Would-Be Martyr And 72 Virgins

“American Jesus” appears to be a compilation of existing work with only a handful of new pieces, but it’s worth a trip to see LaChapelle’s full technicolour brilliance blown up large and more in your face than ever. As the title attests, religious-themed work of all creeds dominates. There’s a full replication of his 2003 “Jesus Is My Homeboy” editorial for i-D Magazine, depicting Christ as
a latter-day dude with a coterie of leisurewear- and tat-sporting apostles;
his “Archangel Michael” tribute to Jacko; the Gulliveresque “Would-Be Martyr” surrounded by 72 Bratzy virgins; and the “Candy Mosque”, looking good enough to eat (which would surely be a sacrilege upon a sacrilege).

Last Supper

There’s a nod to Michelangelo’s “La Pieta” (taken from his 2005 “Heaven To Hell” collection) with Courtney Love cradling a suspiciously Kurty Jesus.
And there are the fabulous ensemble works “Deluge” and “Cathedral”, which draw inspiration from the Great Flood, with the former in particular depicting a drowing society brought down by consumerism – ironic indeed from the man with the most excessive eye in the genre.

Cathedral

Speaking of consumerism, the first of two distinctly untypical subsets of LaChapelle’s work on display, “Negative Currency”, presumably took its place as a commentary on the greatest Western religion of them all – the almighty dollar – while the second, a selection of the eerily serene underwater portraits which made up his 2007 “Awakened” collection (are they going towards the surface,
or going towards the light?), is possibly LaChapelle at his most minimal and sombre. A watermelon sorbet amongst the knickerbocker glory of everything else on show, it’s not what you’d expect, and all the more outstanding for it.

Job Awakened

“American Jesus” is open Tuesdays-Saturdays 11-6 until 31st October, and is well worth a look on your lunch break – just don’t have dessert before you go.

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For a man who started off by spraying his eponymous tag all over mid-90s Bristol, the artist we can only call Banksy has long since transcended his graffiti crew roots to really make a name for himself in 21st century culture.

His output always hallmarked by its wry, satirical wit, he spent the first half of this decade decorating every free surface in London he could get away with, creating a body of work that cocked various snooks at modern society, establishment, culture and ethics, both local and global. He’s broadened his range to incorporate street sculpture, animatronic animals and bogus “Banksy of England” tenners, spread his wings to graffiti walls in New Orleans, Australia and The West Bank, and has sneakily hung his own “remixes” of famous paintings in galleries as renowned as the Louvre, MOMA and the Tate.
He’s had artwork purchased for increasingly astronomical sums by the likes of Christina Aguilera and Brangelina, hosted exhibitions in London, New York and Los Angeles, and taken commissions for Blur, the Observer and the Glastonbury Festival. And now he’s returned to the scene of the crime, to the town where those six stencilled letters first rang out: Bristol.

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I’d read about Banksy vs Bristol Museum a few weeks ago and thought it’d be well worth a day trip. A quick bit of travel research proved that it was possible to get over and back from Dublin to Bristol in the one day with O’Leary’s lot for a surprising pittance (although that did include a 6.30AM flight out) and that the Bristol Airport Express bus service would drop and pick you up just round the corner from the Bristol City Museum & Gallery on Queen’s Road. All in all, it’d be a sin not to have gone, so I booked it up and set the alarm clock early.

What with a delayed flight out, plus a much-needed pitstop in Rocotillo’s Diner (just across the road from the venue) for a deliciously calorific Full English, I only got there at 10am. Even though that was the Museum opening time, there was already a queue of a couple of hundred people waiting to get in. The Museum’s website does warn that you can expect to queue for an hour at any time of the day – which I did – and given that it’s free in, you can’t prebook tickets or get fast-tracked to the front in any way, so it’s well recommended to bring some reading and/or listening material and get there early, especially as last entry to the exhibition is at 4pm.

Near the top of the queue

Near the top of the queue

As I queued, and also noted during my trip around the Museum, a casual look at the people around me showed just how mainstream Banksy has become;
not in any mellowing of his style, but in his acceptance as a valid artist from the cultural classes at large. Far from a 20- to 30-something demographic crowd of sideways-baseball-cap-wearing media gonks, liberal luvvies and faux-rebellious students, all life was here, from elderly ladies to groups of primary schoolkids. Of course, given that everyone visiting the Museum had to join the one queue whether they had came for Banksy or not, he may not have been what brought them there, but they were certainly checking him out once inside. I suppose that, despite the anti-establishment streak and taboo-baiting nature of much of his work, the inherent prankster’s wit in everything he does means that viewing a Banksy is always ultimately enjoyable, even to the tweedy tea-room brigade.

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So, what’s Banksy vs Bristol Museum actually like? Well, the more familiar you are with Banksy’s work in general, the more you’re going to recognise as you pass through it all. Certain works – such as his Madonna-and-Child-with-iPod painting “Silent Night”, and several of his museum pieces – have been imported wholesale from previous exhibitions (in many cases, this is the first conscious curating they’ve had, as opposed to having been snuck in by Banksy himself), while plenty of themes, slogans and visuals have been re-appropriated from earlier stencils – such as the “Mind The Crap” greeting on the Museum steps, which first appeared in front of the Tate in 2002. Meanwhile, his infamous
“This is not a photo opportunity” rebuke, originally daubed in the vicinity of several London tourist landmarks, now ironically sits in the heart of the main exhibition gallery, surrounded by happy snappers ignoring the patient pleas of museum staff not to use their flashes. Of course, I took a shot of it too, but a flashless one – there’s enough flouting of authority on the walls already.

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However, even with all this familiarity in mind, there’s still plenty to enjoy, both new and old. After filing in past his Glasto commission piece “Portaloo Sunset” in the entrance foyer, you step into the central ground-floor atrium to be greeted by a burnt-out, vandalised ice-cream van, melted cone dripping over the charred windscreen, with an attendant riot cop perched on a constantly bobbing fairground horse.

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Passing by marble statues of Michelangelo’s David as a suicide bomber,
an angel on the rip and a black-eyed Buddha, the start of the “Art of Banksy” exhibition is marked by the artist’s never-more-timely 2006 painting of a candy-brandishing Michael Jackson luring Hansel and Gretel into his cottage.
While some supposedly more daring satirists have felt that even mentioning Jacko in their work is “too soon” and have edited accordingly (*cough* Bruno *cough*), it’s refreshing to hear that this piece was actually added to the exhibition – and garlanded with an array of “poignantly” burning candles –
after the King of Pop’s untimely demise.

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The Art of Banksy does what it says on the tin – lots of large canvases and gold-framed artworks, depicting a Planet Of The Apes-style House of Lords,
a snoozing Thomas the Tank Engine in the process of getting tagged, and any number of unlikely anarchists. One corner of the room is Baconesquely recreated as the artist’s studio; a chaotic clutter of stencils, scribbles and snapshots, all viewed through a chicken-wire barricade whilst listening to a recording of locals complaining about Banksy’s “criminal activity” on what I assume is Bristol’s answer to the Joe Duffy Show.

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Next door, his Unnatural History room showcases many of the animatronic pieces first seen in his 2008 NYC show, “Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill”, such as the rabbit applying makeup, sausages in tanks, and the eerily Lynchian “nugget chickens”. Whilst offering a sobering commentary on man’s relationship with the animal kingdom, the level of technical excellence here is impressive;
I defy anyone to win a staring contest with the paintbrush-wielding monkey.

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That’s it as far as the “official” exhibition goes; and this is where a whole different level of fun begins. Upon entry, staff invite you to “find the Banksys” dotted around the rest of the Museum & Gallery’s established exhibitions, and so you begin an eagle-eyed trawl of the first and top floor rooms and corridors. His fake or subverted artworks are easy enough to spot amongst the existing pieces in the Victorian, Modern and European galleries, all credited as they are to “Local Artist”. Some, such as “How Do You Like Your Eggs” (depicting an unlikely wardrobe combination of burka and saucy apron) or his “Budget Version” take on Claude Lorrain’s “Flight to Egypt”, draw a quick snort of laughter, while others show how he’s not just smart but clever, too:
take “Agency Job (Gleaners)”. In this remix of the Jean-Francois Millet original, one of the peasant women has actually stepped outside of the painting’s lowly labour in order to sneak a crafty fag break.

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Harder to spot are his additions to the various display cases and tableaux of stuffed animals, ceramics, and geological and archaeological finds; suffice it to say that scan these too quickly and you’ll miss a few pieces out, as I later realised I’d done myself. As you scour through these displays, you do find yourself starting to look at everything as if it may be a Banksy – I was convinced that an ancient hooded child’s tunic in the Egyptology section was his nod to the long-standing existence of hoodie culture – and it’s perhaps to the detriment of the many genuine pieces of artistic and historical merit on display that you cast them aside so quickly in your search for the next larf.

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Nonetheless, once you give yourself enough time to take it all in, you’ll certainly see some impressive works by artists other than our local friend; “come for the Banksys, stay for the rest”, if you will. But with all due respect to the more established denizens of this stately Edwardian institution, coming for the Banksys is what most of the perpetual queue outside Bristol Museum has been doing this summer  – to the tune of more than 100,000 visitors to date –
and will continue to do until the exhibition closes on August 31st.

It’s a queue I’d highly recommend joining, for the opportunity to see so much of his fabulously inventive, invective and playful work under one roof; and if it does give cause to the fear that this avowedly anarchic joker is now being thoroughly feted by the same establishment he’s spent his career debunking, at least he’s having the last laugh while doing so.

* A version of this article can be seen at TheBubble.ie.

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