When famous hip-hop artists gather together a group of their pals to release a collaboration album, people tend to see it for what it is: a lazy attempt to test the customer’s intelligence to see if anyone knows the difference between art and commercialized tosh.
And so on to Banksy’s latest offering, Dismaland. Banksy has gathered together a few Brit art brand names in Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer to offer his “take” on a theme park.
As we’re left to digest yet another bombastic, overblown piece of Brit art, it’s worth asking: who is this all for? With Dismaland, Banksy presents us with a visceral, raw and minimalistic take on a theme park, but ultimately nothing we haven’t seen before from him. It’s trademark Banksy: reheated socialism, ‘challenging’ juxtapositions, obligatory out of context references to Gaza. It’s the artistic equivalent of a Che Guevara poster hanging in a student dorm.
Banksy just doesn’t do changing things up. His work is constantly looking in the rearview mirror, oozing concern for the same distant marginalized groups as ever while overlooking how compromised he is. Speak up for homeless migrants in the Med or faceless peasants in Gaza while striking a licensing deal with Topman. It’s all incredibly calculated to make people feel good about themselves while lining Banksy’s pockets.
And there’s the orgiastic, bilious self-promotion. The anti-promotional campaign. The story ‘leaked’ to the local newspapers. The website with the ‘ironic’ upside down shopping cart that repeatedly crashed when people tried to book. As with most anti-marketing campaigns, it was all incredibly coordinated if you know where to look for it. It’s almost no surprise to see a new Banksy released with little-or-no warning because that is what Banksy does.
It’s just all a little too studious. If Banksy were setting himself up as an entrepreneurial artist, an empire builder, Brit Art’s answer to Jay-Z, it would be easy to admire him for that. He would at least be owning the fact that Banksy is a brand for hire. Banksy is an incredibly effective commercial operator with a strong back catalog.
Instead, he’s setting himself up as Kanye. He’s trying to be the change-maker, bringing awareness. But real change-makers don’t drop in occasionally with a half-formed thought, they are incessant in pushing for change. It all comes over as a bit half-arsed. It undoubtedly garners attention, but judged by the standards of an actual campaigner for change has a limited impact.
In two weeks, Dismaland will move on, leaving an unloved seaside resort arguably in a worse state than when he arrived. He’ll be another couple of hundred thousand dollars richer, and nothing will have changed. Genuine artistic integrity we can all applaud, but this seems to be yet another attempt to enrich brand Banksy on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised. Oh, and make sure you visit the gift shop on the way out.