Updated: May 15, 2019
Most of us have seen the video and every major news outlet carried the story. In case you haven’t here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ9PAoKvqX8 . Britain’s notorious street artist Banksy shredded one of his own works, Girl with a Balloon (2006) as soon as the hammer went down in a high profile auction at Sotheby’s. It’s been a week and the art world and beyond is still talking about the “prank” Banksy pulled on one of the biggest auction houses in the world.
This so called prank was far more than that. This was a moment in art history that will be included in textbooks on modern art, in books about the art market, and has been inscribed in every current art historian, artist, collector and critic’s memory for life. This was more than a prank, this was what the art world needed and what people like me have been waiting for.
Banksy disrupted an institution that is closed to most of us – the high end auction house. This disruption only lasted a few minutes but it has reverberated across cultural consciousness. It has spawned a million memes, McDonald’s, IKEA, and Perrier have jumped on the band wagon appropriating the image for ads and products. You can see them here: https://www.artsy.net/news/artsy-editorial-mcdonalds-perrier-brands-appropriated-banksys-shredded-painting-ads
What Banksy did by shredding his own work in such a public spectacle was draw attention to the curious world of the art market. You would think that a perfectly intact painting that had just been bought for $1.3 million would now be worthless. Instead, it is estimated that due to the high profile nature of what Banksy did, it only increased the price tag on this work. Banksy for his part has never shown any interest in the salability of his work and even stated in the video above that he made the frame incase the work ever went to auction.
Banksy knew that by partially destroying his own work of art it would increase the value. Knowing that and going through with the partial destruction he was shining a spotlight on the fickle nature of art and the art market itself. Why would a work of art be worth more in a shredded state than in its original form? This is due to a few factors. First, the work of art “went viral” thanks to video images of its destruction, this in and of itself increases its value to collectors because they would own a work that is now recognized by almost everyone in the world. Second, Banksy actually created a new work from an existing work, live in the middle of an auction. So Girl with a Balloon (2006) has now been re-titled as Love is in the Bin (2018). You can read more about that here: http://www.artnews.com/2018/10/11/sothebys-self-destructing-banksy-piece-officially-sold-now-newly-completed-work/ .
This single moment of genius by Banksy has now made other artists and collectors of Banksy’s work wonder if destroying it will make it more valuable. I can answer that – it won’t. What Banksy did was so public, so spectacular, and so unexpected that it cannot be repeated. It is an unprecedented moment in art history. The only way to top it is to up the game, go one better than Banksy. We have waited a long time for someone to shake up the art world like Banksy did; I suspect we will be waiting even longer for someone to top him.