Bristol

Banksy's Dismaland gloom a joyful memory from the seaside

  • 27 September 2015
  • From the section Bristol
Banksy's Dismaland theme park at Weston-super-Mare Image copyright Reuters

The gates at Banksy's Dismaland have shut for the final time, leaving 150,000 visitors to feast joyfully on memories of something so intentionally gloomy.

It was billed as a "bemusement park" with the anonymous artist himself describing the pop-up "family" attraction in Weston-super-Mare as "unsuitable for children".

Some 4,500 paying customers entered every day after it opened five weeks ago, egged on by hundreds of thousands of social media postings across the world.

Tourism chiefs in North Somerset predict it brought £20m of business to the seaside town, statistics that could make any national arts venue drool.

Image copyright PA
Image copyright AP

Based in a derelict seafront lido and also featuring work from Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer and Jimmy Cauty, it was his first show in the UK since 2009's Banksy v Bristol Museum, which brought 308,719 people to the gallery and £15m to the city.

"With figures like that he could do whatever he likes wherever he chooses," said David Lee, art critic and editor of The Jackdaw magazine.

"Local councillors will prostrate themselves when he comes calling."

But fine arts professor Paul Gough, who has written extensively about Banksy, is doubtful Dismaland will inspire other civic authorities in the same way.

"Perhaps they work best and with a rather touching poignancy when the place has a particular personal relationship to Banksy," he said.

"It gives the event that peculiar Banksy mixture of begrudging affection and droll humour."


Ian Youngs, Arts reporter, BBC News

Dismaland was the art phenomenon of the year.

It had room for 4,500 people per day, and many more probably would have gone if they could have.

In comparison, around 3,500 people per day went to the V&A's record-breaking exhibition of fashion designer Alexander McQueen in London earlier this year.

And the most popular exhibition in the history of The Tate - last year's Henri Matisse show - had 3,907 per day.

But when David Hockney exhibited at the Royal Academy in 2012, he attracted 7,512 a day.

Which raises the question: who is Britain's most popular living artist - Banksy or Hockney?


Visit Somerset described it as "a global phenomenon of major importance" for the area, and in the town itself almost every hotel and B&B bed was full throughout September.

Art producer Kath Cockshaw, who visited the dystopian display last weekend, said: "I think Dismaland will definitely help to put Weston-super-Mare on the map at a crucial stage in the town's development.

"Whether the legacy will be an artistic one I am not sure, but from a tourism perspective I know people who had never been will return to the town because of their visit to Dismaland."

Could anyone other than the elusive Bristolian have pulled it off? Mr Lee thinks not.

"No-one else will attempt anything as complex, tricky to organise or as expensive as Dismaland," he said.

"Only Banksy can muster the resources, financial and material, and mobilise the necessary droves of other contributors for that."


#Dismaland on social media

  • Twitter: There have been more than 300,000 tweets globally relating to Dismaland. It has been most tweeted about in the US, followed by the UK and then Japan
  • Instagram: Some 86,500 picture post have tagged Dismaland
  • Google: The peak volume of traffic searching for Dismaland was on Friday 21 August, the day after the attraction was announced. Also, the top search query was for Dismaland tickets
  • YouTube: Nearly 11,000 videos related to Dismaland uploaded. The official Dismaland trailer has been watched nearly 2.6 million times
  • Facebook: Declined to provide any stats

Ms Cockshaw added Banksy had a "unique approach to 'art with a message'" and his work stands "head and shoulders above the rest in terms of impact".

"Artist friends went to the opening and reported feeling incredibly moved by some of what they'd seen. They came back feeling that it was time for their own art to get political," she added.

Image copyright PA
Image copyright PA

But while lesser-known artists design their own methods to get noticed, David Lee believes they will never produce anything on as grand a scale as Banksy, who offers an "antidote to all that clever stuff".

"His art, being facile and superficial, is popular with those who don't generally like the sort of conceptualism foisted on them by the art establishment," he said.

And his art has set Weston-super-Mare alongside other British seaside resorts long associated with great painters and artist's colonies, according to Mr Gough.

"Who would have thought crowds would ever be queuing around the block in the rather faded, but in places still elegant, seaside resort?," he said.

"Not so much queuing the block but lining the beaches. It looked like the evacuation from Dunkirk.

"Banksy must have loved that sight."

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