In 2005, the artist Banksy installed a piece of concrete in the British Museum’s Roman Britain gallery. A bison, a person who looks like they have spikes protruding from their back, and a supermarket shopping wagon are drawn in marker on the concrete. Entitled “Peckham Rock,” the installation mimicked standard museum practice with a label that had a title, description, and even a fake identification (accession) number. The label read,
“This finely preserved example of primitive art dates from the Post-Catatonic era and is thought to depict early man venturing towards the out-of-town hunting grounds. The artist responsible is known to have created a substantial body of work across the South East of England under the moniker Banksymus Maximus but little else is known about him. Most art of this type has unfortunately not survived. The majority is destroyed by zealous municipal officials who fail to recognize the artistic merit and historical value of daubing on walls.”
“Peckham Rock” remained in the gallery for three days until museum took it down when they learned about it through Banksy’s own website.
Following the work of Fred Wilson and James Luna, this is another example of subversion in the museum. Banksy’s small piece of concrete critiques and raises multiple questions. What is worthy of hanging on a museum wall? Who decides what is valuable? Why is public art, done on walls of buildings and in the streets, not valued in the same way as art housed in museums? What if artists seized museum spaces and decided what art is museum worthy? Marabou thinks that a Fred Wilson quote from a 2017 ArtNet article captures a main element of Banksy’s commentary embodied in “Peckham Rock.” When explaining why he was drawn to working in museums Wilson said, “I’m interested in the museum because it’s a place where no one expects to be misled. Whatever they give you, you believe.”
Banksy’s concrete “cave painting” is now on display in the temporary exhibition, “I Object” at the British Museum that explores acts of dissent reflected in the museum’s collection. “Peckham Rock” is one of the show’s concluding pieces. Does it still communicate the same message when curated as part of a bigger exhibition on dissent? Can dissent be curated? Marabou will explore this question and the full exhibition in an upcoming post.