Friday, December 29, 2006

Oaxaca calls upon its artists , LATimes

Rows of poinsettias are rising along the zócalo, where police and protesters recently brawled. Fresh coats of paint are being slapped on buildings to cover up angry graffiti.

Even though the barricades have been removed and the blood has been mopped from the streets, this colonial-era city is struggling to recover from a violent spasm that scarred its buildings, traumatized its citizens and left as many as a dozen people dead over a seven-month span.
"It's a tense calm," said Francisco Toledo, the Zapotec Indian considered by many to be Mexico's greatest living graphic artist.

Oaxaca is now counting on perhaps its most precious resource to help lead the city's comeback: its world-renowned artists and artisans, with Toledo at the forefront, and its global reputation for exuberant creativity.

Just a few weeks ago, central Oaxaca was a combat zone. Thousands of public school teachers who'd been on strike since May, and their allies, were battling federal police and supporters of Oaxaca's autocratic state Gov. Ulises Ruiz. Concrete chunks and sheet metal blocked the streets. Spray-painted slogans covered large swaths of the city's baroque churches and government offices.

Though federal police finally retook control of the city of 260,000, the political dispute is far from settled. Possibly as many as 100 demonstrators remain under custody. Human rights groups charge that some detainees have been tortured and "disappeared." Demonstrators around the world have called for Ruiz to resign.

Toledo, a Oaxaca state native, characteristically has been near the center of efforts to resolve the crisis. Though the artist always has insisted that his mystical, folkloric-modernist images of rabbits, lizards and other creatures don't contain political subtexts, he is continually lending himself to social causes.

Born in southern Oaxaca state in 1940, Toledo has profoundly influenced local culture and politics both through his art and as one of the leaders of the non-governmental agency PROOAX (Council for the Defense and Conservation of the Cultural and Natural Patrimony of the State of Oaxaca). Four years ago, Toledo and PROOAX blocked McDonald's from plunking down a set of its golden arches in Oaxaca's venerable zócalo, or central public square.

During the height of the recent protests, the Institute of Graphic Arts of Oaxaca, which Toledo founded and leads, served as a temporary aid center for the injured. Doctors were on call to provide treatment to the wounded. "Never have we had so many visits," said Toledo, with a touch of irony.

A longtime advocate of indigenous people's rights, Toledo is now involved with a group that's raising money to provide legal counsel to incarcerated protesters. He also hopes to gain attention for "citizen proposals" to combat the poverty and other social problems that have bedeviled Oaxaca for centuries.

"If this government doesn't hear them, what happened is going to recur again and again," he said in an interview in the institute's stately, tree-lined courtyard. "It's very important … to create a consciousness among the citizens, the business managers, the church and the politicians that it's time to change."

As the political process stumbles forward, many Oaxacans have been busily restoring their battered city. In the zócalo, the profusion of poinsettias, many donated by ordinary Oaxacans, temporarily fills the gaps left by plants uprooted from public flowerbeds during the demonstrations and police crackdown.

Carlos E. Melgoza Castillo, director general of the Institute of Cultural Patrimony for Oaxaca state, said that building repairs have been complicated by the varied types of materials that were damaged. But he said none of the damages would be "permanent."

Funds for the city's recovery are flowing in from the foundation of wealthy Oaxaca businessman-philanthropist Alfredo Harp Helú, who helped PROOAX revitalize historic Santo Domingo church as a cultural center and keep it from being converted into a hotel in the mid-1990s. The federal National Institute of Anthropology and History has been overseeing much of the reconstruction.

"The greatest damage isn't in the monuments," Melgoza Castillo said. "It's the very bad example that children and young people received over six months, that the way to show your disagreement with someone is to paint on the walls. This is much harder than to restore monuments or walls, to restore the conscience of the new generation."

Though state police in full body armor remain posted near the center, many parts of the city have reverted to their usual rhythms, and a major charm offensive is underway to convince outsiders that things are back to normal, more or less.

Marimba bands are again performing around the zócalo. Last week, a trickle of foreigners and locals stopped by the Museum of Contemporary Art, located in an elegant colonial palace thought to have belonged to the conqueror Hernán Cortes, to examine Javier Martín's exhibition of colossal human-head sculptures.

Esperanza Arizmendi Bazan, one of 500 women who belong to the arts cooperative Women Artisans of the Regions of Oaxaca, said that the cooperative currently is doing only about 1% of its regular business. But she said the people would not allow "magic Oaxaca to die."

"The affection and the love of the Oaxacans that we always have had toward international tourism, I hope to God, that this will come back," said Arizmendi, who makes pre-Hispanic-style ceramics, some of which are used in the popular Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Guelaguetza festivities.

Isolated for centuries by the surrounding Sierra Madre mountain range, Oaxaca has grown into one of Mexico's most popular tourist centers. Many are drawn to the arts scene, which received a major boost from the late modernist master painter Rufino Tamayo, whose intermittent presence in his native state drew numerous other artists, as later did that of Toledo and another painter, Rodolfo Morales, sometimes called the Mexican Marc Chagall.

Alicia Pesqueira de Esesarte, director of the Museum of Prehispanic Art of Mexico in Oaxaca, which houses Tamayo's personal collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, credits Toledo with attracting to Oaxaca a new generation of artists who share some of his beliefs in the importance of social justice and equality. "There are people [artists] that have a very important sense of society," she said. "I feel that their energy, their interest and their prestige are going to definitively make the restoration."

Yet Toledo and others hope that, in regaining its cultural equilibrium, Oaxaca won't simply regress to the political status quo. Oaxaca consistently ranks near the bottom of Mexican states in wealth, education and health care. Thousands have fled to the U.S. in search of work.

Toledo speculates that the recent problems here may help draw attention to these chronic deficiencies. But he also fears that the central city is fast becoming a boutique town like Venice or San Miguel de Allende, where rich foreign visitors are displacing poor locals. "The life of the city already is lost," he said.

Selma Holo, director of USC's Fisher Gallery and author of "Oaxaca at the Crossroads: Managing Memory, Negotiating Change," said in an e-mail that she believed the city would recover from what she called "a nasty, brutish interruption."

"Life is never easy in Oaxaca, but that does not seem to stop the Oaxacan artists and galleristas and restaurateurs, in the long run, from fighting the good fight," she said. Besides Toledo, she pointed to artists such as Demián Flores, Laurie Litowitz and José Luis García as "people with vision" who could be living and working in any of the world's major art centers, but have kept their roots here.

"There is something, as they used to say about Florence in the 15th century, that is 'in the water' in Oaxaca," Holo wrote, "and that something which is generative and healthy will not be permanently poisoned by this awful political mess that it has suffered."

Though Toledo earlier this year announced he was withdrawing from social activities to concentrate more on his art, those plans have been put on hold for now. "It's a necessary evil," he said, laughing, of his political activities.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

China Celebrates the Year of the Art Market NYTimes

COLLECTORS of contemporary art had a new set of names to learn this year: those of Chinese artists whose careers are soaring in a new and frenzied sector of the market. Much of the art is politically charged, with references to Mao Zedong, Tiananmen Square and, increasingly, globalization and consumer culture. Among the hottest names are Zhang Xiaogang, whose “Bloodline Series” consists of portraits set during the Cultural Revolution; the painter Yue Minjun, whose portraits of Chinese men look very much like himself; and Zhang Huan, a conceptual artist who produces works like “To Raise the Water Level in a Fish Pond.” (That piece was part of a performance in which Mr. Zhang photographed local workers standing in a pool of water to show how little effect they had on the water.)

These images can be found in galleries, art fairs and auction houses in every one of the world’s art-buying capitals, often fetching several million dollars apiece. Charles Saatchi, the London advertising magnate, collector and gallery owner, has begun snapping up works by Chinese artists, many of which he plans to exhibit in his new gallery, under construction on Kings Road in London.

“In a single year we sold over $60 million worth of Chinese contemporary art, whereas in 2005 we sold only about $15 million,” said Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby’s managing director in Asia and Australia. In April, the auction house devoted a special New York sale to this category that brought $13.2 million. The prices have been climbing steadily ever since.

A November auction at Christie’s, which holds its Chinese contemporary art sales in Hong Kong, brought in $68 million. Yet Christie’s experts in New York and London think it’s a mistake to market these artists in a narrow category. As a result the auction house also sprinkles such works into its general postwar and contemporary art sales. (Sotheby’s holds auctions devoted strictly to Chinese contemporary art in New York and Hong Kong.)

Whether the boom in prices for Chinese art will last is anyone’s guess. “It may feel like the first flush of fashion, but it’s actually a much deeper market,” said Brett Gorvy, one of the heads of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department worldwide. Mr. Howard-Sneyd said the soaring sales totals had more to do with years of underrecognition of these artists rather than inflated bidding.

So it may be an oversimplification to predict that this is a bubble about to burst. “While there has been a rapid internationalization of Chinese contemporary art,” Mr. Howard-Sneyd said, “there’s bound to be a correction, and then prices will simply level off.”

Sunday, December 17, 2006

In Houston, Art Is Where the Home Is, NYTimes

ON a strangely balmy late autumn afternoon, while the art world busied itself in Miami with beachfront reservations and limo drivers, Rick Lowe was, as he generally is, on Holman Street in southeast Houston’s predominantly black Third Ward, greeting another out-of-towner.

In the gloaming, decrepit houses and weedy lots dotted some surrounding blocks, on the edges of which were new double-garage brick homes — signs of encroaching gentrification, an unwanted side effect of Mr. Lowe’s work.

Although it’s hard to tell at a glance, this stretch of Holman may be the most impressive and visionary public art project in the country — a project that is miles away, geographically and philosophically, from Chelsea and Art Basel and the whole money-besotted paper-thin art scene.

Mr. Lowe, a lanky, amiable, remarkably youthful-looking 45-year-old artist from Alabama, moved to Houston 21 years ago and lives here in the Third Ward, where he founded Project Row Houses. In 1990, “a group of high school students came over to my studio,” he recalled. “I was doing big, billboard-size paintings and cutout sculptures dealing with social issues, and one of the students told me that, sure, the work reflected what was going on in his community, but it wasn’t what the community needed. If I was an artist, he said, why didn’t I come up with some kind of creative solution to issues instead of just telling people like him what they already knew. That was the defining moment that pushed me out of the studio.”

He tried to think afresh what it meant to be a truly political artist, beyond devising the familiar agitprop, gallery decoration and plop-art-style public sculpture. He considered what the German artist Joseph Beuys once described as “the enlarged conception of Art,” which includes, as Beuys put it, “every human action.” Life itself might be a work of art, Mr. Lowe realized: art can be the way people live.

And the Third Ward could be his canvas. He was inspired by John Biggers, the late African-American muralist who painted black neighborhoods of shotgun houses like the ones on Holman Street and showed them to be places of pride and community, not poverty and crime. “It hit me,” Mr. Lowe recalled, “that we should find an area like the one that Biggers painted that was historically significant and bring it to life.”

Behind him as he spoke, a phalanx of 22 gleaming shotgun houses stretched across two blocks. Built in 1930 as tenant shacks, derelict by the early ’90s, they were bought by Mr. Lowe and a coalition of artists and others. To Mr. Lowe they were like “found objects.”

Seed money came from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation. The director of the Menil Collection gave his staff Mondays off to help renovate. Chevron redid the outside of a dozen buildings. Hundreds of volunteers pitched in to clear trash and sweep up used needles, hang wallboard and fortify porches. A local church adopted a house, and so did people and families from the neighborhood.

One of those people was Garnet Coleman, the neighborhood’s representative in the Texas House. His father’s family has lived in the Third Ward for 100 years. “Art is about the human condition,” he told me when I phoned him the other day. “You wipe out a people when you wipe out their history. What Rick is trying to do is to restore that history.”

The campus, as Mr. Lowe calls it, now includes eight houses for visiting artists, local and international. “We give them a key,” he said. “They come for anywhere from a week to five months. They can do whatever they want. There are a lot of other places for artists to prepare exhibitions for museums or alternative spaces. We encourage them to figure out how to be creative within this community.”

The artist Sam Durant has told me that what he did at Project Row Houses nearly a decade ago was still “the show I am most proud of” because “my work could have meaning beyond the parameters of the Euro-ethnic art institutions, the status quo contemporary art world.” Whitfield Lovell made wall drawings of African-Americans, based on early-20th-century studio portrait photographs, in the only row house where the wallboards had been left intact. That project, he said, remained a “pivotal piece” in his career. read the article.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

More Than You Can See: Storm of Art Engulfs Miami, The NY Times

It’s Baselmania week in Miami: the week the art world gets high on art fairs, its current drug of choice. This year there are said to be 13 additional fairs grouped around the mother ship, Art Basel Miami Beach, now in its fifth year. Once, an art fair was a concentrated event; more and more it is a catalyst for diffuse, ancillary, tag-along, glamour-by-association shop-a-thons. There are spin-off art fairs and design shows, museum openings, gallery exhibitions, private collection viewings, book signings, product introductions, fashion events and sundry art parades — all unfolding amid a good deal of social to-ing and fro-ing, seeing and being seen at parties, dinners, receptions and brunches.

Art Basel Miami Beach alone now offers more than any one person can see: in addition to nearly 180 exhibitors in the Miami Beach Convention Center, there are panels, lectures, a video lounge, a sound-art lounge, artist projects and Art Positions, the minifair held in containers on the beach. So in a way you’re back at square one, looking at the art. Seeing what I could — some of Basel Miami Beach and Positions, much of the New Art Dealers Alliance fair known as NADA, assorted museum exhibitions, some private collection shows — I had a fabulous time.

It is probably de rigueur to note, at this point, the insatiable appetite for art at fairs like this: the mindless buying frenzy, the herdlike pursuit of certain names, the trophy hunters with hedge fund money, the 100 museum-led groups that have descended on Miami this week, according to The Art Newspaper (which swings into a daily publication schedule for this fair). But the most valuable commodity at an art fair is information, and that is available to anyone.

The information has a particular intensity here. Unlike London, where the major museums are setting their exhibition clocks to Frieze Art Fair time, or New York, where the art machine is big enough to swallow almost any art fair whole, Miami offers what might be called a level playing field for different viewing circumstances: i.e., fairs, museums, the private collector/alternative spaces and a few other ventures. All contribute equally to the flow of information.

All sorts of new stuff fills the NADA fair, which occupies a sprawling white stucco building in the Wynwood section of Miami. At the London dealer Dicksmith’s booth, for example, the Japanese-born video artist Meiro Koizumi has a short video titled “Amazing Grace,” in which his face serves as whipping post, lead character and stage set all at once. For something more restrained, try Emily Wardill’s equally engaging, if more abstract, films at Jonathan Viner, another London dealer.

Kazok Hall, from Vienna, has a beautiful oversize rag rug, with fringe as long as hair extensions. It was made by Fabrics Interseason, a fashion collaborative that converts unsold clothes to rugs at the end of each season. Yet at Leo Koenig, a big, gaudy new painting by Peter Saul, now in his 70s, is in full cry.

At Art Basel Miami Beach the outer ring of the convention center, called Art Nova, is devoted to younger galleries and feels livelier than NADA. One of the dealers there, Catriona Jeffries from Vancouver, is introducing the artist Judy Radul with “Five Pieces of Relation,” an elaborate yet tight multimedia sculpture installation. The work sets the mind to thinking about the souls of animals, employing a teleprompter, a live camera, several small monitors and music.

All along the Art Nova pipeline, you run into pockets of resistance to the art world’s consumer culture. At the Maccarone booth you enter a small room and see (along with the artist himself) Anthony Burdin’s latest hallucinatory excursion into video, sound and the desert landscape. At Susanne Vielmetter, Rodney McMillian bucks the system with 15 identical photographs of a rather beat-up plaster bust honoring some forgotten businessman. As Ms. Vielmetter explained, quite happily, she expects to confirm Mr. McMillian’s theory that people won’t buy what is clearly plentiful.

Read here the complete article.

Friday, December 08, 2006

'I'm sure they were thinking it was time a woman won', The Guardian

The night before, she had won the Turner Prize, but yesterday morning Tomma Abts' composure was such that you wondered how she'd look if she hadn't won. The 38-year-old German painter was pleased by the result, of course. But she didn't think it changed anything. "It's nice," she said, in a mild, pleasant voice as she lifted her shoulders in the international sign for "whatever".

Abts' win on Monday night has been widely interpreted as the Turner Prize correcting itself. As well as being the first woman and the first painter to win the prize in almost a decade, after years of artists with personas as feverishly worked upon as their art, here was someone about whom we knew practically nothing: 38 years old, from Kiel in Germany but resident in London for the past 12 years, and (rumour had it) the former girlfriend of Chris Ofili - that's pretty much it. Efforts to extract more would, as you will see, be a painful experience. We meet around the corner from Abts' studio in Clerkenwell, which she has occupied since she first came to London on a grant. She had been living in Berlin, doing a mixed media art course in which she had concentrated mainly on film - "structuralist films" - while doing her own painting on the side. The Berlin art scene at that time was a little "sleepy", she says, whereas London was just starting to swing with the YBA movement. Abts moved to the city not because she wanted to join in - she's not really a joining-in kind of gal - but rather to enjoy, at a tangent, the energy and interest in art that it generated. "It's quite nice to have that bit of distance, to have my own personal space to develop my work," she says.

For a couple of years she got by on the arts grant, and then was forced to find work. "I had strange jobs, like telephone marketing type jobs for German companies." It was only four years ago that she was able to live solely off her art, and it was a huge relief finally to give up the day jobs.

Abts has never had formal training in fine art and hasn't taken a painting lesson in her life. The town she grew up in was "not very exciting" - she summarises its main features as "sea" and "nice landscape" - but the idea that news of her win might appear in the local paper makes her smile broadly. Abts' parents still live in Kiel and told her proudly that she had made the national news in Germany on Monday night. They have always encouraged her, she says, and her upbringing was "very free." I ask if her parents do anything artistic.


What do they do?

"Do I have to say?"


"My mum is a teacher in a primary school and my dad is a gynaecologist." She smiles sheepishly.

Is it true that you used to go out with Chris Ofili?

The smile falters. "I won't talk about that."

I tell her that I hope she did.


Because then you could be characterised as a former golden couple, the Posh and Becks of the art world. (Ofili won the Turner Prize in 1998.)

Abts looks horrified. "No comment! I don't think these private things should be part of art, in a way." Without naming names, she goes off on a riff about self-cannibalising artists who make their careers by rummaging about in their own detritus. "It [the Turner] used to be such a personality-based prize and I think that's not appropriate, necessarily, for art. I think it should be about the art and not the personality. These private things should not be mentioned."

OK. Are you married?

"No." She cracks up laughing.

Abts used to work on canvasses of all sizes, but somewhere along the line she started feeling most comfortable with a single size, a modest 19in by 15in, and has stuck with it ever since. She paints sitting down, and the canvas fits the arc of her arm. It's an agonisingly slow process, she says, and she will sometimes put a canvas away for a couple of years before returning to complete it. "They're such slow paintings to make that I think they might also be slow to look at ... that people might not really notice what's going on."

This isn't false modesty. Abts was surprised by the warm reaction of the critics to her work in the run-up to the Turner Prize. (In October, the Guardian's critic Adrian Searle wrote: "Abts' quiet and disturbing paintings seem utterly right and unexpected. They ought to win.") She has always painted for herself, on the side, and the fact that it has ended in glory is something she finds quite amazing. But her self-containment that might also be construed as arrogance. She won't name any influences, or works of art that first inspired her as a child, or her favourite past winner of the Turner Prize. She's not even sure she could name them.

I ask what she thinks of her co-nominee, Phil Collins, whose conceptual work based on the perils of reality TV was about as far from Abts' paintings as you could get. "It seemed to me," she says, "that for what he was doing, he was doing it very well." This sounds pointed, but perhaps that's just wishful thinking.

It is said that winning the Turner Prize doubles the value of an artist's work overnight. No, says Abts. "Maybe some galleries and artists would do that, but not the people I work with." She considers art a calling, not a career, and she didn't go into it to make money - well, who does? Actually, she says, she thinks young artists today have a rather warped attitude in this regard. "It seems that these young artists think of it as a career choice, to do art; they think that it will pay off and they'll make money." She looks doubtfully out the window. "Maybe they will."

Why does she think so few women have won the Turner Prize? "I don't know, because to me it feels that in the last few years a lot of female artists have been very dominant. In a way maybe [the prize] hasn't represented what's happened. I'm sure they were thinking that it was time a woman won it. I'm sure there are those kind of strategic decisions [going on]."

Abts' paintings are like palimpsests, multi-layered, and it gives one little jolts of pleasure to look at them, although it's impossible to say why. They require no external stimuli, no subject matter and no obvious end point. Starting a new painting is, says Abts, "the easiest part for me, because I have so many visual ideas. Colours, or starting to make shapes or thinking about where things go, that's easy. Then just trying to make it more concrete and trying to make some kind of meaning."

What is the meaning? Abts doesn't mind art that requires an explanation alongside it, but equally, she doesn't think one needs to explain - or even know - why something is good. There has been much discussion about how she can tell when one of her paintings is finished. Instinct, she says. "A question of balancing it all out or making it darker or ..." Anyway, she just knows. She very rarely abandons a painting, but when she does it's because she has painted over the canvas too many times and it has become bumpy.

"I can't really ever say what it will look like or how it will finish or what will make it work. It's a different idea or moment for each painting. It's not really... I try so much with the composition and colour, and get closer and closer, and then there's always a moment where there's a surprise, when I try something and ... everything is in place."

Isn't it scary, not being able to formalise what she is doing, has done, or is going to do - why any of it works or doesn't work? "It is scary!" she says. "Sometimes I think, God, I don't know if I will ever finish another painting because I don't know how to do it. But then it keeps happening ..."

She frowns and has another crack at it. "What is an interesting idea for me is something being ... an image and at the same time an object." We talk about Jasper Johns' Flag as an example of this: a painting, a flag, and also a representation of a flag. "When I finish [a piece of art] it becomes congruent with itself."

There is a confounded silence. "I don't know what that means," she says, and, with a lack of pretension we may not see again in a Turner Prize winner, laughs uproariousy.

Past winners on the Turner effect

Gillian Wearing, 1997 winner

The main thing I remember thinking after winning was: "How am I going to make work under this spotlight?"

That lasted quite a few months. I turned down a lot of media, particularly television. Apart from trying to keep a low profile, my experience was very good - though one curator told me they had been criticised for giving me a solo show so soon after, because it was too obvious. In fact, the show had been planned a year before I was nominated.

You can't control nominations. Some brilliant artists haven't been nominated, even when they have made significant work within the year being considered. Nominations reflect the judges' subjectivity.

Martin Creed, 2001 winner

I thought about whether to accept the nomination for a few days. But the thing is, it offers such a big audience. Winning had a good effect, I think. It's a stamp of approval, so it gives you confidence. Much as I thought I could do without it, I desperately wanted to win. I'd been brought up to think it was a bad thing to be competitive, in a moral sense, but I'm comfortable with it now. I've realised I'm just as human as everyone else. A lot of artists are very competitive.

Right now, I'm working on some paintings and drawings. I've been collecting hundreds of pens. Each pen is different and has a different colour, and I'm doing a different drawing for each pen.

Grayson Perry, 2003 winner

It didn't do me any harm. Overall, it doesn't make a huge difference. Artwork is not judged by popular success. It's not like the Booker Prize. Competitions are often considered a bit vulgar, but I've never had a problem with being vulgar. I enjoyed dealing with all the media attention. I wouldn't have refused a nomination - I'm not that cool.

Currently, I'm working on pieces for a gallery in Japan. It's in a variety of mediums - ceramics, metals.

· Interviews by Tancred Newbury

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Season's greetings from Banksy and friends, The Guardian

It used to be a Clarks shoeshop, though the stabbed teddy bear with a kitchen knife still dangling from its stomach in the window should give away its change of occupancy. Inside, the only shoes you will find are on the feet of bodies which look real but are models. One appears to have put his head through a wall.

This is Santa's Ghetto, a gallery and amusement arcade founded by the elusive graffiti artist Banksy, which opens for 23 days in London's West End to show art as well as selling affordable works.

"I felt the spirit of Christmas was being lost," said Banksy (real name possibly Robin Banks or Robert Banks, or possibly neither). "It was becoming increasingly uncommercialised and more and more to do with religion so we decided to open our own shop and sell pointless stuff you didn't need."

Inside is an entertaining mixed bag of work from about 20 underground artists which might make battling the Oxford Street throngs a touch more bearable, although following the instructions on one of Ben Turnbull's Break In The Case Of Emergency boxes may not be advisable. A handgun is inside.

Banksy's work is spottable. In one big painting depicting the wicked witch and Hansel and Gretel, the witch has been replaced by singer Michael Jackson trying to entice the children with a candy walking stick.

Rather ostentatiously, there are two Mona Lisas. One has Marge Simpson's towered blue hair and the other is showing her backside. Other works have a Hello Kitty influence, although if you look long enough you will notice the sweet girl holding the kitten is also holding a hand grenade.

Kelsey Brookes is described by the gallery as a west coast surfer and panda painter and in real life he does indeed have the blond, blue-eyed, tanned look of someone about to run into the warm Pacific. "I was involved last year and it's something you look forward to," said Brookes, over from San Diego for two weeks. "It seems like a gallery that's done by the artists, there's not a heavy galleryist's hand here."

The aim is to be affordable and it's possible to buy screen prints from £35 up to £500. Or you could spend a lot more. One work already sold is Emma Heron's vend-a-limb machine, which has a black child with his leg blown off looking longingly inside.

Why not have a go at throwing hoops at religious iconography? If you get all three, including one over a rotating Virgin Mary, you will win a Gorillaz cuddly toy.

The religious theme continues in a darkened TV room where you can sit on a dirty sofa and watch video art, such as two doodled men on a cross discussing the "son of whatshisname."

The Santa's Ghetto "squat art concept store" began five years ago and has been in various locations around London, though this is the first time it has alighted on Oxford Street, right next door to Tottenham Court Road tube station.

Banksy himself goes from strength to strength and you would have to be particularly well-heeled to call his work affordable these days. Earlier this year it was revealed that Christina Aguilera had paid £25,000 for three of his works, including a pornographic picture of Queen Victoria in a lesbian pose with a prostitute.