Updated: Jun 17
A trip to Bristol was well worth the plane ride across the pond. Banksy, the still-mysterious Bristolian street artist, must be pushing 40, yet the defining tone of his latest show is one of gleeful, establishment-blaming, adolescent despair.It is excellent and I loved it. So many contemporary art exhibitions seem glib in their politics, unimpassioned in their stance, but here Banksy has harnessed his most potent image-making skills to convey a deadly serious message.
This place is unreal. A dilapidated pub, desperate-looking big wheel and grim promenade perfectly express the melancholy of the British seaside. But that’s just Weston-super-Mare on a cloudy morning. Dismaland is even stranger. Or so I hope, as I join the very first visitors to Banksy’s “Bemusement Park” waiting to see what lies behind a miserably gothic sign on the battered facade of a decaying lido.
People have been waiting for hours in a queue that stretches far along the prom. A thousand free tickets have been given away to Weston-super-Mare residents for this first public day. All ages and subcultures, from punks to a man dressed entirely in union jacks, are waiting to have their bags searched.
There are two layers of security as we pour in: real and fake. The fake security is one of the funniest moments of the day. Created by Californian artist Bill Barminski, it consists of cardboard X-ray machines and tables of cardboard objects supposedly taken from visitors. But this joke about modern security systems does not change the fact that before you enter Dismaland you do actually get your bag thoroughly inspected by very real security guards who asked one visitor if he had any knives or, get this, spray cans. All graffiti in Dismaland is official graffiti.
You can see why Banksy needs to control spontaneous art. Already the streets between the railway station and his attraction have been enlivened by rival street artists. Banksy. He’s so famous that Weston-super-Mare’s lucky golden ticket holders rush into the park already taking pictures, and I too am caught up in the thrill. This has been in the Daily Mail and everything, it’s got to be special.