Imagine this. You’re sitting in a posh auction house and you’ve finally won a bid on this beautiful graffiti painting. The price you will be paying? Not much. Just a mere US$1.4 million. The piece then proceeds to shred itself.
Such is the chutzpah that has come to be expected from graffiti artist Banksy – and also the reason why he is so revered in the art community in general. No one else would probably be audacious enough to pull off such a stunt.
The art auction mentioned above took place at Sotheby’s in London just last month. As soon as the auctioneer dropped the gavel, a beeping alarm went off and the frame began eating the painting, spitting half of it out the bottom.
Banksy himself later said that he meant to actually shred it completely. Posting a video on YouTube, he explained how he built the shredder into the painting’s frame, but something went wrong upon activation.
The piece, a classic Banksy motif known as Girl With Balloon, was created using spray paint on canvas back in 2006. Despite the damage, it is now estimated to be worth double the auctioned value.
Part of the hype that he has built can also be attributed to his anonymity. Until today, the man’s identity is still unknown and it looks like he will continue to remain elusive for a long time.
More than twenty years have gone by since pieces by him first appeared on the streets of Bristol. Yet, not much can be garnered about his background. Such is his mystique – and secret to success.
IMAGE: Banksy – Love is in the Bin, 2018, via Sotheby’s
An Artful Rebel
As it is, Banksy prefers to be known as a political activist. He likes to call himself a “quality vandal” and his subversive street art and epigrams combine dark humour with graffiti, executed in a distinctive stencilling technique.
“I have no interest in ever coming out,” he was once quoted as saying in an interview. “I figure there are enough self-opinionated a-holes trying to get their ugly little faces in front of you.”
Banksy does not do sit-down interviews too. In the rare anonymous ones he has given, he skewers the art world – as well as the people who would be willing to pay millions for his work.
“The art world is the biggest joke going. It’s a rest home for the over-privileged, the pretentious, and the weak,” he has pointed out in the past. “Every other type of art compared to graffiti is a step down.”
On some of the Banksy art collectors – which include celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Chris Martin and Jake Gyllenhaal, he stated, “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this s–t.”
The defiant attitude does however fit the persona he has built over the years. His graffiti pieces are nothing if not dark and witty. They also send out a message targeting political hypocrisy and social injustice.
Making His Mark
Shredding his own art in an auction is not the first stunt Banksy has pulled. He has made headlines all over the world time and time again for the various pranks successfully carried out.
In 2005, he hung his own work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the American Museum of Natural History, all while wearing a fake beard to shield his identity.
In 2009, he sneaked into one of his own shows in Bristol. He even sold a bunch of signed originals at a makeshift stand in Central Park, New York, for just US$60. Such is his love for creating a buzz.
IMAGE: Dismaland via flickr
Dismaland, a temporary art project organised by street artist Banksy, was lauded for being a twisted look at consumerist culture. It offered a satirical view at superficial tourism on the whole.
The theme park in England was described as “a sinister twist on Disneyland”. Prepared in secret, it opened during the weekend of Aug 21, 2015, and closed permanently just 36 days later.
Banksy’s auction record was first achieved in 2008, when a defaced Damien Hirst spot painting called Keep It Spotless sold at Sotheby’s New York for US$1,870,000 with a premium.
IMAGE: Submerged Phone Booth via salvoweb.com
Subsequent others have also broken the million-dollar mark. The painting Simple Intelligence Testing sold for US$1.3 million in 2008 at Sotheby’s London. Sculpture Submerged Phone Booth brought in US$1.2 million at Phillips London in 2014.
As for the auctioned art work that has been recently shredded? It is now called Love Is In The Bin, after Pest Control (the handling service on behalf of Banksy) issued a new authentication certificate for the work.
How’s that for being Banksy-ed?
Cover Image: banksy.co.uk
Writer | PY Cheong
PY Cheong has plied the trade of words long enough to recognise the difference between writing and storytelling. Believes in always dressing up his prose. Living and breathing the work he does.