Banksy-ed!: The Self-Destructing Banksy Painting
by Nisan İğdem
The painting Girl with Balloon by Banksy, the internationally acclaimed England-based street artist, was auctioned by Sotheby’s in London on Saturday, October 6. The painting was sold to a still-unknown buyer for 1 million pounds. However, what the auctioneers did not know was that the painting frame had a booby-trap inside, which proceeded to destroy the painting moments after it was sold.
The auction was held in London as part of Frieze 2018. One of the art works being auctioned was Banksy’s Girl with Balloon (2006), spray paint and acrylic on canvas, a work that had originally been wall art, displayed on Great Eastern Street, London. The painting was sold for 1 million pounds, which is a new auction high for the artist and three times the estimated price for the art work. However, moments later, the painting shredded itself, leaving everyone in the room in shock. In an Instagram post, Banksy explains that he had “secretly built a shredder into the painting, in case it was ever put up for auction”. In the same post, the exact moment of the shredding can be seen, recorded from a mobile phone camera. How the shredder was activated is still a mystery, most likely by a remote control.
Even days after the remarkable move by Banksy, the art world is still in awe. There is still not a consensus about the new price of the painting, or whether it matters. Some think that as the painting now has a significant value in art history, possibly more as a performance than an object, it should increase in value. Director of Brandler Art Galleries, John Brandler noted that the more publicity an art work gets, the pricier they tend to become. However, there are also some who think that this work matters beyond value because it said something that needed to be said: “art is being choked to death by money”.
Although the shredding of an artwork in an auction house may be new to the scene, destruction as a creative outlet is not. Even by captioning his Instagram post with Picasso’s words “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge,” Banksy is alluding to a hundred-year-old tradition. The tradition goes further back than Picasso, to the signature “R Mutt”. Marcel Duchamp is one of the pioneers that opened up the discussion about what can and cannot be art, by turning a urinal upside down and exhibiting it as ‘high art’. Dada was a critique of commercialisation of art, just as Banksy’s self-destruction was. Over time, Dadaism was swallowed by modern art, and started being exhibited, like the replica of Fountain in Tate Modern. Time will tell what will become of Banksy’s attempt to critique the art world. Nonetheless, it sure has made a mark.
‘Banksy Posts Video of £1M Painting Shredding Stunt at Sotheby’s’, BBC News, 6 October 2018. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-45770028)
Jones, Jonathan. ‘Why Putting £1M Through the Shredder is Banksy’s Greatest Work’, The Guardian, 8 October 2018. (https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/08/why-shredder-is-banksy-greatest-work)
Reyburn, Scott. ‘Banksy Painting Self-Destructs After Fetching $1.4 Million at Sotheby’s’, The New York Times, 6 October 2018. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/06/arts/design/uk-banksy-painting-sothebys.html)