Since I first learned about Banksy via this project a few months back - see Banky's Live From Paris - it seemed appropriate to do a follow up on his historic prank last week. Last Friday, October 5, a framed print of his Girl With Balloon sold for over 1 million dollars at a Sotheby's auction in London. Moments after the gavel went down to record the sale, a shredder in the frame began shredding the canvas. It was a stunning and dramatic moment, started by what sounded like a beeping alarm and then followed by a slow shredding of the canvas as auction-goers stood gaping.
On Saturday, Banksy posted an instagram picture of the shredded painting with a "Going, going, gone..." caption. Later, he posted a video showing how he pulled it off - by building a shredder into the frame, just in case the painting ever appeared in an auction. Some forward thinking, eh?
So, it seems that a remote-control operated shredder that was placed in the painting years ago (maybe as many as 12 years ago) is what triggered this event. The unfolding of the great shredding was pure drama - striking just as the crowd was reacting to the impressive winning bid. Banksy clearly "out drama-ed" the best of page-turning novels and historical thrillers all while raising a number of intriguing questions.
First, and for me the most sensational, was Banksy in the room? The Encyclopedia Browns of the art world have identified a man in the crowd, with an angle close to that shown in the video footage on Banksy's page, that bears some resemblance to Robin Gunningham, who many speculate is the real identity of Banksy. Have we finally identified the real Banksy?
Second, and not quite as dramatic but still mind-scratching, was Sotheby's in on the prank? Or maybe the real question: is it possible that Banksy pulled this off without any outside support? The shredder didn't add a noticeable weight? At no point in the painting's life did anyone do even a cursory inspection of the frame? The battery life of this shredder was years? Sotheby's asserts that they had nothing to do it and were as Banksy'd as the rest of us, but it makes you wonder. I hope more details are forthcoming about all angles of this prank of the century.
Third, what does this do to the value of the painting? One the one hand, it's largely destroyed. But on the other hand, it's the center of one of the most memorable moments in the art world (admittedly, I don't know of all that many momentous moments in the world of art, BUT I'm working on it). Time will tell what this will do to the value - and some of it might depend on what, if anything, more we learn about the event and how it was executed. Even so, initial estimates speculate that the painting has increased in value by as much as 50 - 100%. A somewhat ironic result of Banksy's perfectly executed attack on the commercialism of art, no?
Even so, the prank is perfect. In his Instagram post showing a video of his shredder, Banksy quoted Picasso: "The urge to destroy is also a creative urge." You've got us all looking at art, contemplating the somewhat contradictory nature of the highly commercialized art world, and engaging with some deeper thinking about creativity. Well played, Banksy, well played. And, not to further commercialize it, but I'll anxiously be awaiting the movie documenting this event, complete with a full investigation into who was involved and how everything was executed.
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Don't have 2 million dollars, but still want a copy of Girl With Balloon?
Or more info on his life? And an exhaustive, updated book of his street art?