The artist known as Banksy made recent headlines with a dystopian theme park called “Dismaland.” He created a deliberately grotesque anti-Disneyland in Somerset, England, complete with crumbling castle and a carousel of butchered horses. Dismaland is as flat and obvious as its on-the-nose name suggests. It’s also decades behind the zeitgeist. In 2015—25 years after the coinage of the pejorative term “Disneyfication”—it’s hard to get more passé than noting the dark side of the Magic Kingdom. While Banksy was crafting misshapen Little Mermaids, Disney was essentially underwriting the Caitlyn Jenner Transition Extravaganza, which puts Mickey Mouse way ahead of Banksy on the hipness scale.
Here’s a crazy idea for relevant art: an exhibit that exposes the dark side of a genuinely dangerous world of make believe. The artist might, for example, consider the nuclear horror lurking beneath the land of unicorns and rainbows now being presented to us as “moderate” Iran. Luckily, such an exhibit has just opened at the Yeshiva University Museum in Manhattan. In Threatened Beauty, Israel-based artist (and COMMENTARY contributor) Andi Arnovitz uses collage and watercolor to create images with names like “Heavy Water,” “Fordow’s Underground,” and “Missiles Pointed Toward Jerusalem” that look head-on at the reality of a Middle East on the precipice of destruction. Threatened Beauty covers more than Iran; it includes pieces on ISIS, the flood of refugees from the Syrian civil war, and the Islamist misogyny that plagues the region. Arnovitz conjures the Middle East’s myriad pathologies, sets them loose on all that is fair, and leaves you to ponder the ruined majesty. Banksy wouldn’t dare tread this ground.
Using traditionally patterned textiles in combination with dreamy colors, Arnovitz goes heavier on the beauty than the threat, which seems the point. Her work is ultimately about all that stands to be lost if defenders of beauty lose to the purveyors of evil. With the Iran deal all but wrapped up, it’s hard to imagine a more timely and necessary exhibit. You can see some of the pieces here, but your best bet is to go check out the exhibit. Take your own peek behind the Magic Theocracy. Threatened Beauty runs through January 10, 2016.