Banksy’s done it again—that is, made himself relevant in the headlines by piggybacking off other artists to create Dismaland (essentially Hot Topic’s answer to Disneyland) in yet another example of his contrived idea of what anticapitalism means. But Banksy’s criticism is neither new nor very cutting, coming from a man who has essentially used his privilege to create graffiti that demands police protection rather than a lengthy prison sentence. So it makes sense that he would view himself as someone who needs to save the little people from the woes of capitalism. He is also ill-fit to be a curator, as he is supposedly not even familiar with the most prominent artists in his own field. In the 2011 documentary Graffiti Wars, King Robbo, one of the UK’s most well known and prolific graffiti artists, recalls that Banksy dismissed him as a ‘nobody’ when they met at a bar. If Banksy cannot even keep track of the artists who definitively influenced him, how can he keep up with the rest of the art world? He can’t—which is presumably what led to his invitation of Damien Hirst to Dismaland.
Since his career began, Banksy has never truly been a hard target to hit. In this latest Dismaland debacle, he’s collaborated with other artists—some who even have talent, but whose names are regrettably hard to find, presumably due to Banksy not wanting too much credit to go to people who actually put in work—and has merely curated most of the exhibits. But the most glaring problem with his ‘curation’ is the inclusion of a piece by Damien Hirst, an action which demonstrates that the presumably once-middle-class, now-upper-class, cishet white man who is Banksy doesn’t have any idea, or at least a clearly articulated one, about what being anticapitalist actually means.
I spend a lot of my time seething over Hirst—his artwork, certainly, but more recently, his representation of how Banksy’s few good curations at Dismaland were accidents. He’s the world’s wealthiest artist, with an estimated net worth of 300 million dollars, blowing even Jeff Koons out of the water with his amassed wealth. He’s the only living artist in history to sell an entire show through Sotheby’s, raising 198 million dollars in that sale alone. Hirst makes his money off of, essentially, glorified poaching. His signature technique is to kill animals, suspend them in formaldehyde, and give them incredibly long-winded titles that leave nothing to the imagination and leave no meaning to be drawn by the viewer that he didn’t directly beat into them. Hirst doesn’t even catch the animals himself, and rarely even preserves them himself—so (much like Warhol), he’s really just an art director, only far more exorbitantly paid. While many contemporary artists, particularly ones who the general public considers ‘modern artists,’ are often critiqued as having no artistic value and not producing real art, Hirst is the only one I truly see as being a non-artist. I do not doubt that Hirst puts less thought into his pieces than I put into pouring a glass of water—they’re just necessary acts for him to sustain his lifestyle. On BBC1, he once said that ‘artists work with what’s around them, and money is around me.’ In a TIME interview, he describes one of his pieces (a canvas of colored circles) as having incredibly simplistic meanings: red meaning love, white meaning purity—connotations that are so well known that they make up the basis of color theory and its applications, and have no place in a serious work as its only meaning. In the very same interview, Hirst mentions some tangential detail about ‘children being murdered in Africa,’ as all white saviors do, while discussing his art about decay. He instills completely false social values that he only understands at face value into his art. The fact that people are willing to drop hundreds of millions of dollars on ‘avant-garde’ poaching is the only thing more depressing than the fact that he continues to produce these pieces.
Hiring a man like Hirst, who has never even once attempted to make subtle points with his work, and who has made more money than any other art creator to date, to contribute to your statement about the horrors of Disney’s capitalism is batshit ridiculous. The masturbatory art community created by wealthy white men like Banksy and Hirst has never been about critiquing anything at more than face value and exists only to sustain its own greed. There are some other pieces in Dismaland that I find truly disturbing, such as David Shrigley’s ‘posters’ which are little more than glorified ‘woe is me, I’ve been friendzoned’ statements. Elevated Post-It notes covered in scrawlings that read like r/mensrights threads are about as edgy as Shadow the Hedgehog and don’t say anything about capitalism’s ills. But that just proves even more curation error on Banksy’s end—capitalism won’t be felled by allowing a whining MRA to be a feature in his park. Dismaland is certainly a depressing version of Disneyland, but for none of the reasons its creators intended. The only statement it makes is on the utter blindness of the elite, millionaire art community, and the absurdity of their presumption to tell us just how bad things are for everyone else, which make any successful points seem like accidents. Of course Hirst can kill a cow, a tiger shark (which is near threatened status!) and a horse without reproach, but he is exactly the same type of man who would try to tell native communities that their way of life and animal husbandry is ‘harmful to nature.’ Of course Banksy wouldn’t think twice about commissioning a man who is worth nearly as as much as a San Francisco startup, because he’s up to his eyes in appropriated money himself. Please, for the sake of anyone who does art, don’t bother ever going to see Dismaland in person—just look out your window and I’m sure you’ll find scenes just as depressing that didn’t cost millions to erect.
Art by Jun Joestar.