It's hard to know which is more pathetic: the standard of art at Banksy's Christmas-bashing shop in Oxford Street, or the losers paying a fortune for it.
‘Tis the season to be jolly. Hang on, scrub that. As the church has been preaching for years, Christmas is the season to kick all that ‘enjoyment’ malarkey with a nice long stint in chapel thinking about your sinful self and your rotten habits.
This year, however, the church is not the only national institution given over to moralising. ‘Guerilla artist’ (or, as some people put it, ‘graffiti genius’) Banksy has joined the throng, ironically declaring that he ‘felt the spirit of Christmas was being lost’ and he therefore wanted to ‘sell pointless stuff’ in Oxford Street. With his business partners he has opened a new ‘squat art concept store’ which ‘attempts to bring an even greater sense of disillusionment to the whole West End shopping experience’. With a slogan on the window screaming ‘Work. Consume. Die.’, a display of a stabbed teddy bear with the stuffing falling out and a crudely made puppet of Santa bouncing up a sign announcing that ‘Christmas is cancelled’, you can go in and feel thoroughly bad for half an hour while being lectured by various artworks about the disgusting values of your society. You can then validate those disgusting Western values by forking out hundreds of pounds on a piece of ‘affordable art terrorism’.
Welcome to ‘Santa’s Ghetto’, a drive to capitalise on the Christmas sales boom, now in its immensely successful fifth year. If you go on a lunchtime, or a weekend, you’ll have to queue to get in. It’s that popular. Two security guards manage the queue and it gives you time to admire the window displays and get thoroughly frustrated with the commercial tide of Oxford Street (as if you weren’t already). Inside there are a lot of artworks and ramshackle ‘squat’ furniture. DJ Shadow is on repeat (he’s going to do a signing later in the week) and there are prints, pamphlets and t-shirts for sale: ‘Hated by the Daily Mail‘ says one; ‘Tagger scum’ says another.
Further into Santa’s Ghetto there is a man behind what looks like a bar, decorated with multicoloured Christmas lights, and a dessicated Christmas tree, spraypainted black and dripping with silver baubles. He is standing in front of three statues of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. ‘Toss, toss, toss’ he cries, with the charm of a market trader. ‘Three hoops for a pound. Who wants to toss over the statues of Mary, Jesus and Joseph? Who wants to buy a raffle ticket for this Banksy print?’ Santa’s Ghetto is a money-making factory and the punters are lapping it up, pointing at art and whispering in admiration. A man dressed in expensive jeans with large holes in his ears enthuses to an American woman who has just tried to buy her own guerrilla artwork. ‘I say I can’t really afford a dishwasher, for £300’, he confides. ‘But I’ve paid £1,700 for artworks. I’m paying in instalments. It’s Christmas presents for yourself. This Christmas everyone’s getting the prints that I don’t like anymore.’
There’s a wide variety of artwork, ranging from plain tat (hubcaps daubed with spraypaint, a video installation in which crucified sketch men talk about ‘the son of whatshisname’) to the cool and quirky (a Clockwork Orange poster made out of Rubik cubes, David Shrigley prints). The exhibition would not be half so popular, however, if it weren’t quite so ‘political’. The installation ‘Vendalimb’ has a black child with a leg blown off gazing at a machine vending prosthetic limbs, behind a white picket fence. Tony Blair takes a smiling picture of himself in front of a massive Middle Eastern explosion. There are not one but two Mona Lisas. One is done up like Marge Simpson; the other is classical, but exposing her arse. Other works show Hello Kitty holding a hand grenade.
Other exhibits are not particularly well executed; most fail to make any interesting or even discernible point. Only the Guardian could classify Banksy’s Michael Jackson in Hansel and Gretel as saying anything remotely new. I asked for the prices of the two shoddiest exhibits I could find. A 3D ‘melted’ Mercedes logo stuck to a black background had sold for £3,800 plus VAT. A map of London, tacked to a piece of backing board with the word ‘Cuntland’ sprayed across it, had not sold – yet – but was priced at £1,500.
And imagine what a miserable Christmas you would have if you unwrapped that on Christmas morning. Yes, Banksy’s bang on the money yet again; he and his business partners will be rubbing their hands with glee at the baffling hyperactivity of their sales register. And with all that preaching about over-commercialisation, the terrible state of the world today, and why we should get in touch with some real spirit of Christmas (whatever that might be), Banksy and Co seem to have beaten Pope Benedict to the punch to give this season’s killjoy sermon.
Banksy woz ere – unfortunately, by Emily Hill
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