SHEER GENIUS: BANKSY’S BRILLIANT STUNT
This moment will long be remembered, of that I’m quite certain. A telephone bidder had just bought Banksy’s Girl with Balloon picture for 1.4 million pounds when a concealed self-destruct mechanism built into the picture’s frame by Banksy himself sprang into action. And before the eyes of the incredulous spectators at the London auction house Sotheby’s the lower part of the picture emerged shredded from its frame.
Another brilliant coup by the artist Banksy in which he succeeds yet again in laying bare the absurd mechanisms of the commercial art market for all to see. To fully appreciate this you have to know that Banksy is a street artist who attaches great importance to the impact that his graffiti and art performances have yet who refuses to take part in the speculative games of the art market. His independence is much more important to him than fame and riches.
So it’s even more astonishing that his Girl with Balloon has now been put up for sale at Sotheby´s auction house and at the very moment that the picture was bought by the highest bidder it self-destructed and so became worthless. But this is exactly where Banksy shows himself to be such a brilliant debunker – because in such a system is a shredded picture necessarily a worthless picture? This case shows that the very contrary is true – it increases, even substantially increases, in value. And so the shredded picture becomes a kind of magnifying glass through which we can view the absurdities of the commercial art market close-up and as they happen.
Girl with Ballon – a test balloon?
As an artist as soon as you engage in this speculative art market system, you can hardly avoid becoming entangled in its coils, and run the danger of gradually exchanging your inner freedom for money. This is the reason why I don’t sell OUBEYs pictures. They were created in the greatest possible spiritual freedom. And I wish to conserve this freedom for them and also for myself in what I do. They don’t need to have any material value put on them in order to assert their value as works of art. Naturally, the position taken by Banksy and the intelligent consequences of his actions are a deep source of pleasure for me. He too has set his sights not on sales but on impact and public perception.
When he does sell, the transaction becomes enveloped in a kind of aurora of enlightenment. Take, for instance the time when an anonymous seller at a stand in New York’s Central Park sold passers-by original Banksy works for 60 dollars. Whoever bought a picture by an unknown artist from this stall did so not because they were buying a “Banksy with expectations of a rapid increase in its value” but because they were buying a picture they liked. Banksy taped this action and published the video – much to the chagrin of all art dealers who had missed this unique opportunity to make a killing. Unquestionably, they would have dearly loved to resell these works at a vast profit.
It would even seem that Banksy had given away his Girl with Ballon with the proviso that the receiver would never put it up for sale. A test balloon to show how strong the counterforces need to be to withstand the blandishments of the art market. Counterforces such as “respect for the wishes of the artist”; “appreciation of the mark of trust shown in bestowing this gift”; or simply “love of art”.
Apparently such forces were not as strong as the magnetic attraction of the art market on which the picture became yet another item for auction.
Higher value through destruction
Despite the very different character of his work – in their free spirit, their need for autonomy and the marked distance they keep from the art market, OUBEY and Banksy are very similar. Both of them have resisted the powerful attraction of the art world. OUBEY mainly did this to paint the pictures that sprang up in his head without being in the slightest influenced by expectations from the outside. Banksy does it so that his works might debunk, demystify, and criticise but also bring his art to that place where he thinks it truly belongs: among people who cannot afford expensive art.
Whoever believes that the higher value of Girl with Balloon after the picture self-destructed means that Banksy’s action has missed the mark or even achieved the contrary effect, is quite wrong.
Because it’s precisely this increase in value that shows just how strong the power of speculation is, and that the spotlight here is not fixed on art. Rather it’s the market that annexes art just as it pleases. Even when that art is destroyed.
Banksy´s coup was perfect. In its unique way it is a clear demonstration of how the market functions, how it twists and turns, adapts to circumstances and eventually triumphs. Whether you find this good or bad is another question. But it’s clear that this is how it is. The goal which was to reveal this has been achieved. The whole world is talking about this stunt and it won’t be forgotten so quickly.