Dismaland was a success, it closed a couple of months ago, and Christmas is around the corner. For most of us this might be time to rest on our proverbial laurels; but Banksy doesn’t take a break from shining a light on what needs to be illuminated; and he’s now shone a light on the ever-expanding refugee crisis.
A picture of the late Apple founder, Steve Jobs, has appeared sprayed on one of the walls of the migrant refugee camp in Calais. In it, Jobs is depicted holding a bin bag full of belongings and the first Apple computer. The relevance being: Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian refugee. The piece is titled ‘The Jungle’ after the refugee camp, and was painted by Banksy in reaction to the negative attitude towards the estimated 7,000 people living there.
(The artwork’s message is clear: every human being has potential, don’t judge people on their current situation. )
Thanks to Steve Jobs, the son of one Syrian refugee; Apple now permanently employs over 115,000 people. As Banksy says in a rare statement clarifying the intention of his work: “We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant. Apple is the world’s most profitable company, it pays over $7bn (£4.6bn) a year in taxes – and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.”
Proving his commitment for the refugees is not merely on an emotional or cognitive level, Banksy has been on a more practical mission ever since Dismaland’s closure at the end of September. Banksy and his ‘Dismal aid’ have been shipping over leftover pieces of construction and infrastructure from the Dismaland site in Weston-Super Mare to Calais; that are now being used to make emergency housing and community areas for the thousands of migrants living in the former dump site.
Banksy’s recent trip to the refugee camp in Calais was not the only place he left his mark. In Calais’ town center is a haunting image he has daubed on one of the side streets. It’s take on the shipwreck found in Théodore Géricault’s ‘Raft of the Medusa’; a ravaged sea-scape of wrecked refugees on a little raft, overlooking an ocean liner – probably a cruise ship; under the title ‘We’re Not All In The Same Boat.’
Another image of Banksy’s that has materialized in Calais, is on a beach-front building; and is of a child looking out to see through a telescope, perched on top of the telescope is a vulture; watching, waiting.
As we gear up towards the end of 2015, here are our top five most memorable moments in art this year. Banksy and Damien Hirst are still making headlines, Chinese artists (and collectors) are big news, and the V&A showed that fashion can be an important form of contemporary art.
Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty (pictured)
March-August: the most visited exhibition at the V&A – ever
Nearly half a million people saw this innovative show that paid tribute to the late British designer. It was something of a gamble for the institution, costing over £3million to curate – “way more than this museum has ever spent on a show before”. But the brilliant theatrical, eerie displays, overseen by curator Claire Wilcox, were a triumph, paying due respect to the spirit of the late McQueen’s ‘Savage Beauty’.
For the final two weekends, the V&A opened the exhibition throughout the night for the first time in its history to accommodate unprecedented demand. On show were some 120 pieces of exquisite tailoring, alongside other works, such as a 3D hologram of ghostly Kate Moss in a swirling McQueen dress.
August-September: Banksy took the art world by surprise with this fantasy fairground/summer festival/biennale in the wilds of Weston-super-Mare
It opened without any pre-warning or marketing, or any public funds. Queues formed round the block and art-world insiders, Hollywood A-listers, and locals eagerly tramped through the mud to see this re-imagining of a disused seaside Lido – a place that Banksy fondly remembered from childhood holidays in the 70s.
There was a thematically linked exhibition of works from 50 artists, from Damien Hirst to Jim Cauty. It was not like anything else in the art calendar – a guerilla biennale with genuine energy, that was taken seriously by critics, helping boost Banksy’s status. Visit the website here.
Damien Hirst’s new gallery
October: after many years of planning, Hirst’s Vauxhall gallery finally opened.
Hirst declared it a “fantastic opportunity for me to wear a curatorial hat for a change.” Designed by architects Caruso St John, its first show was of huge abstract paintings by John Hoyland – one of Hirst’s favourite painters.
The huge, 37,000 square feet, space involved the conversion of three Victorian painting studios with extra-high ceilings. Hirst will show works from his collection that includes pieces by Francis Bacon, Banksy, Tracey Emin, Richard Hamilton, Jeff Koons, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince and Gavin Turk as well as taxidermy, natural history and anatomical models. Entry to Newport Street Gallery is free.
Modigliani’s ‘Nu Couché’ sells for $170 million / £113 million
November: the second most expensive work of art, ever
This seductive 1917 painting of a reclining nude sold for $170.4 million (£113 million) at Christie’s New York after a bidding war between six prospective buyers. This makes it the second-highest auction price for any work of art (the highest being for Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger).
Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy
December: major UK exhibition by the Chinese dissident stays open for 56 hours
Ai Weiwei was allowed out of China, after having his passport confiscated, just in time to attend his first major show in the UK. It was so successful that the RA had to open 24 hours a day, for the last weekend.
Works from the past 20 years were on view, ranging from salvaged architectural elements, to delicate jade and porcelain pieces made by his teams of craftsmen and women. The works combine a strictly formal geometry with a poignant narrative of anger and despair at the repression of the Chinese State.
Key works included ‘Straight’, 2012, a huge – some 150 tonnes – of steel bars recovered from the site of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake straightened by hand by a team of workers, see more here.
Where most others fail to get to the heart, the human heart, of the matter; Banksy can usually be relied upon, and what has emerged from his recent visit to Calais is no exception.