Sophia Kypriotis and Theo Turvill discuss whether Banksy’s self-destructive stunt was revolutionary or just downright dumb
It would be naïve of us to assume the notorious Bristol wall-stenciling, authority-dodging Banksy would collude with the art establishment. His recent shredding stunt reminds us we should never be too comfortable with his artwork.
‘Banksy didn’t destroy an artwork…he created one’ said Sotheby’s head of contemporary art, Alex Branczik, in celebration of the rebellious act. Banksy even renamed the piece ‘Love is in the Bin’. Branczik acknowledged Sotheby’s didn’t collude with the feat but recognises it as ‘the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction’, reaffirming Banksy as an innovator to be held amongst the greats of Duchamp and Rauschenberg.
An artist who uses public spaces as their canvas and intends their work to be accessible to all cannot be criticised for continuing this notion during an exclusive sale that goes against these values. It is a sad irony that the artwork was shredded in a revolt against his work being owned by the elite, but also a dark satire as, if anything, this stunt has increased the artwork’s value, with the winning bidder announcing she will go ahead with the £1.04 million purchase. The bidder of the self-destructing print conveyed her support for Banksy’s shredding, telling the Guardian that ‘When…the work was shredded, I was at first shocked, but gradually I began to realise that I would end up with my own piece of art history’. This concept of artwork created at the point of sale is a revolutionary act and we must applaud Banksy for crossing the line once again, (which of course had to be right under our noses). He appears to have never intended this sale to be straightforward, as an Instagram video reveals the shredding frame was secretly constructed ‘a few years ago … in case it was ever put up for auction’. The significance of ‘Girl With Balloon’ as an anti-establishment symbol was solidified during the 2017 UK general election when Banksy offered a free print of the artwork to those who voted anything other than Conservative. Thankfully, Banksy has maintained it as an anti-establishment symbol through its destruction.
Contemporary artists are ultimately valued for their reputation, and Banksy’s transformation of ‘Girl With Balloon’ into ‘Love is in the Bin’ has once again held a mirror up to us and asked us to question the nature of art, and who really owns it.
Banksy’s art has always been about putting the finger to the establishment, but this stunt seems faux-anarchist, reeking of collusion between the mischievous artist and the capitalist pigs that Banksy seemed to so vehemently be fighting against.
The stunt was clearly staged although both the artist and the auction house deny it. They would never admit to such collusion. It would lead to a true scandal the likes of which would truly shake the art world. As If they expect us, the discerning public, to believe that Banksy built a mechanical device with remote activation into the picture frame that, in this the day and age of high-security, simply went unnoticed.
With the shredding of the paper the original work became anew. ‘Balloon Girl’ metamorphosed to become ‘Love is in the bin’. Along with the new title, experts estimate that the piece has at-least doubled its market value as a result of the stunt - a highly predictable outcome that the devious artist must have himself foreseen. This is disappointing. If the piece had gone up in a cloud of smoke or been completely destroyed the anti-capitalist, anti-establishment message would have been sent loud and clear but the fact the piece only half shredded leaves more than a shred of doubt in my mind that this was no more than shameless self-promotion and a ruse to cement himself in the pantheons of art history. Sadly, the art remains, ready to be auctioned off to the next highest bidder in 50 years or so. Banksy seems to have flaked out on this one.
I hope that when the piece does inevitably resurface for auction that society will realise the absurdity of buying an artwork that stands against its own resale. Love may well be in the bin, but not long after it fluttered the shredded remains of my respect for this artist I once held in high regard.