Art Show Review

Banksy – Gross Domestic Product Croydon

Gross Domestic Product
30 September – 13th October 2019

London Art Week was earlier this month and one thing we have come to rely upon is it getting trumped by a Banksy event. The big news that crossed over into the mainstream media from Art Week was a new Banksy Auction record of £10million for Devolved Parliament, though taken at face value that wasn’t a Banksy stunt. Banksy’s planned art week hijack involved a new solo exhibition staged as a shop window display…in Croydon. Bear in mind Banksy hasn’t had a UK solo show since 2009 so this is a major big deal.

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The storefront opened on the Tuesday, perfectly timed to hijack the art press headlines on Wednesday, which is the day London Art Week actually kicks off with the major VIP private views. By setting up the show in Croydon, it was sufficiently far outside Central London to be on another planet so far as art world social sybarites are concerned, therefore reducing the number of braying moneyed air kissers turning up.

Banksy is never conventional. This time the exhibition had no gallery you could wander about in, no gift shop to exit through, just roughly 25m of window displays in an otherwise vacant storefront. Banksy shop borrows its name from that major economic activity yardstick Gross Domestic Product, though with rather a different emphasis on the word Gross.

Gross Domestic Product open all hours

Banksy explained in interviews that his name is his Trademark but a card company was suing to have that trademark taken from him as they wanted to use it and claimed he wasn’t. Banksy is widely reported as saying that this card company, Full Company Black, want to produce fake Banksy product.

“A greetings cards company is contesting the trademark I hold to my art, and attempting to take custody of my name so they can sell their fake Banksy merchandise legally, I think they’re banking on the idea I won’t show up in court to defend myself.” A lawyer is said to have advised Banksy that he can prevent the forced removal (revocation) of his trademark by using it, hence the creation of the shop to sell “a range of offensive and impractical” Banksy merchandise.

The legal debate gets less and less interesting the deeper you get into it, as is usual for such things. For fans however the Croydon shop offered an opportunity to enjoy an unexpected Banksy exhibition and the frission of excitement as fresh “Affordable” Banksy product comes to the public market for the first time in many years. Banksy has set up an online website to sell via a lottery system a selection of the items displayed in the Croydon Store and the shop closed (for the time being?) on the 28th of October.

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Banksy has used the shop “premise” and shop premises in the past. In 2005 his Crude Oils exhibition featuring a couple of hundred live rats popped up in an empty shop on Westbourne Park Road close to Notting Hill and in 2008 The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill in New York exhibited animatronic creatures in a spoof pet shop.

The real world Gross Domestic Product is meant to look like a shop and it simulates most of the experiences of a shop apart from actual buying or stealing. The products are displayed like department store goods complete with punning labels which give the kind of unhelpful information that mocks shop labels for their weird product descriptions. The humour in the labels is part of the Gross Domestic Product experience and Banksy is thanked for effectively writing about half of this blog post, you just got to read the labels.

To enjoy the Gross Domestic Product experience you had to queue, all decent shops have queues. The queue was controlled by one of those webby queuing control systems, bit like when you are waiting at Argos while all the attendants are having shits and giggles in the stockroom. When you entered the shop zone your first experience was naturally a water feature, all malls have them. Banksy’s was a real budget water feature, a couple of butterflies hovering over a till to an accompaniment of cheezy elevator mood music.

Next a brief stop in the Baby Department featuring a cradle supplied with the most essential item for all modern over-protective parents, a multi camera CCTV baby monitoring system. Not currently available in the online store.

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The Electrical Goods department starts off with a collection of rat clocks perfect for someone needing to monitor the time in 15 different timezones, these reproductions of the rat Banksy stencilled onto a clock in New York streets last year tell us it’s time to keep going in the rat race. Batteries required, possibly accurate to within 12 hours. The label says Edition of 150, the shop announces 50 available.

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Clocks features the one piece of stencilled street art created for Gross Domestic Product. As usual, the question “how did he get away with doing this” comes to mind.

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Port Talbot’s Toxic Snow is revisited with the poor boy now bothered by tv screen snow.

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The cunning design of the shop is intended to ensure all customers/patrons have to walk past the lavish display of living room furnishings and decorative tat.

No home is complete without a goldfish bowl, Banksy riffs off a joke he did back in 2009 at the height of the spat with Robbo in Camden with a fish tempted by a painting of the ocean to make a bid for freedom.  If K Bellow is a real artist he/she has left no trace on the internet.

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Banksy, Regents Canal, 2011
Banksy, Regents Canal, 2011

Further along in the display Banksy flips this idea on its head with wildlife coming out of the picture or more accurately, from the picture frame. The frame of a flower painting is revealed to have been a snake in disguise when the painting falls off the wall, this was much easier to figure out at night when the spot on the wall was lit like a gallery painting showing the “before” state. In the daytime you kind of had to spot the screw in the wall the painting had hung on.

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Gross Domestic Product must have done its market research and decided a lot of its customers must be into art. And most of those must be into art and puns. Introducing the Banksquiat ferris wheel, first seen at the Barbican in tribute to Jean Michel Basquiat.

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Soft Furnishings department is set up for a busy period in the run up to Christmas. Tony the Tiger was a pretty universally recognised product mascot, not available in the shop this time round but a rug is a fireplace essential because they’re grrrrrreat. Sugar coated frosties not included.

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Life IS Too Short…To Take Advice From A Cushion, the bricks and mortar store suggested these were a limited edition of 50, the online shop promises unlimited but unsigned cushions. Who knows?

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Thrower..editioned triptych, secretly I am hoping no one else has thought of applying for this one from the online store.

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Duck and Cover is a trio of drones replicating the old flying ducks that were on all classy walls in the 60s and 70s. The label promises and edition of 50 of which 15 were available in the opening opening. However, the GDP shop display has the three drones on a mission over a painting with two smoking target sites errr.. surgical strike…ummm no civilian casualties…tactical hillside decimation etc etc. The Duck and Cover available through GDP Online is just the set of three drones, doubtless there is a hell of a premium for the full assemblage with landscape painting, or you could have hours of fun positioning the three drones over your own unfavourite landscape view.

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The Lighting Department has an amusing variation on the disco ball, a police riot helmet covered in a mosaic of mirrors. This perhaps could also be a soothing night light for someone very young and innocent. Or a very disturbing night light for grown ups.

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In the Toy Department, the Early Learning Counting Set is particularly painful in this week where 39 immigrants were found dead in a chilled container in England. The online shop had 5 sets priced at £750 each with proceeds being donated to support humanitarian search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean, the plight of refugees has been close to Banksy’s heart for a number of years.

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Banksy does like his soft toys as a parody for the evil abuses inflicted upon animals, particularly those destined for the larder. The soft toys were pretty horrifying, poor hedgehog with a hypodermic stuck in his schnozz was particularly upsetting.

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Also in the Toy Department a chalkboard makes a versatile surface for a child to do a child shivering under an attack of clicks. Possibly not Banksy’s strongest visual pun and not one available in GDP online. Don’t be confused by the red spot in the photo, the shopfront glass was pretty reflective.

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Probably the most poignant and purposeful of the Banksy goods is the Welcome Mat produced by women working in holding camps for refugees with parts from lifejackets with proceeds being used for humanitarian purposes assisting refugees detained in the camps. It brings to mind Banksy’s contribution to the Help Refugees fundraising last Christmas.

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The Morrissey poster and the spray cans are perfectly adequately explained on the product labels, although calling out Morrissey’s “drift to the far right” would be more effective if his name had been spelt correctly. In the China Department the labels for the mugs are a bit open to interpretation, giving the idea that Banksy might be signing each mug in an unlimited edition which would be fantastic if it was plausible.

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In the clothing department, young proto vandals are the obvious target market for items like the tagged hoodies, the balloon tee and the shredded tee.

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Stormzy coming on stage at Glastonbury provoked immediate reaction at Graffoto Towers where the live coverage was entertainment du jour. Much slapping of the forehead and “Who else could it have been?” when the news broke that Banksy had turned his hand to designing grime god garms. Available one size only which presumably means Stormzy’s size…he doesn’t look small!

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If you need suggestions on how to accessorize your GDP threads, Banksy suggests perhaps there is mortar this clutch bag.

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Having started at the cradle, Gross Domestic Product wants your wallet right through to the bitter end, for which event it has an appropriate tombstone.   None were available in the first launch of GDP so clearly not intended for a pauper’s grave.

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These days quality department stores are all about creating ambience and “experience” and Gross Domestic Product is not short of stuff that is eyecatching but not for sale. A bit like graffiti.

I loved the little baby ducklings following big mummy bottle of detergent swan, and so did loads of other kids.

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Lighting Department has a couple of items for display purposes only including a balaclava lampshade (thanks to the friend who pointed out the earlier mistaken identification of this item).

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As chandelier’s go, the Banksy CANdles is a nice visual gag but low on the lumens scale.

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The grappling hook, intensely impractical, barely strong enough to allow a choirboy to escape a catholic priest is not available through the shop having been released previously, labelled as an edition of 26.

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Dumbo Down reheats up a video gag Banksy put out on one of the “days off” on the Banksy Better Out Than In  adventure in New York, 2013.

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Nothing says “home” quite like glowing logs in a grate though with all the safety warnings on everything today who would dare have a fire?

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Sadly my favourite item in the store has got no mention and hasn’t appeared in the shop. 10 rolls of that drippy flock wallpaper please!!

Banksy and the Banksy environment, that is the fans, the collectors, the market makers, the online forums and the press are all wrapped in up in a bizarre freeform twist of dilemmas. We want him to be the outlaw, yet the market wants Banksy product so he must conform; He relishes the role of maverick pied piper, court jester and scarlet pimpernel yet he has to protect his commercial interests; he wants to help his product get into the hands of the fans so he must produce unlimited versions, yet a massive increase in Banksy supply reduces scarcity and diminishes his investment potential in the eyes and balance sheets of the high end collectors.

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The online store says “The artist has price-fixed the first consignment of releases at a reduced rate for lower income patrons. In most cases this is far below market value. Please refrain from registering at this time if you are a wealthy art collector.” That’ll work! Many of the items are indeed in a reduced quantity online compared to what the labels say, for example Stormzy’s vest is an edition of 5 with 2 APs which presumably includes the 1 worn by Stormzy, GDP online has 1.

The stats break down something like the following (errors and omissions excepted):

23 items had labels in the shop
22 of the labelled products are on the online website, the Crucifix, an edition of 26 was not available
5 are unlimited – not including the cushions which probably are limited, of those 5 all bar the Welcome Mat are £35 or less
Of the 17 limited editions, the edition size wasn’t stated in the GDP store for 5 of the products but a total of 495 limited edition items were made available in this first wave “paupers” release. The numbers show there is plenty opportunity still for wealthier “investors” to get their piece of the pie, the people who mysteriously get privileged off market access to whatever Banksy is flogging.

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Banksy has yet again ambushed us with something completely unexpected and he has done it the unconventional way, which is the norm for him. There are some flashes of brilliance and there is the solid support for good causes but mostly the take home is just how Banksy does art in a way that is completely different to anyone else.

The art is completely relatable which is a Banksy cornerstone. No art degree required to appreciate this, we can all get it and that is standard for Banksy.

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Banksy has deservedly won plaudits for his efforts to ensure that some product is made available at affordable prices and that it gets into the hands and onto the walls of ordinary non art collecting folk.

Banksy’s spoof shop forces us to see that the joke in capitalism is on ourselves as gullible consumers and we laugh at the joke but the charade masks the precise and intense focus on a single objective, which is defending the Banksy trademark from exploitation by people other than Banksy. Did you notice the “tm” trademark designation alongside the shop name GrossDomesticProduct?

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Axe. Not available yet.

This market is a spinning wheel and Banksy has given it another solid shove. We aren’t the only ones scrambling like rats in a cage.


Banksy website

Gross Domestic Product website

All photos: Dave Stuart

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