Written by Kabir

The moment the shredder began its action on the painting and phone cameras turned to the site of the flabbergast, Sotheby’s, rather the entire world of art, was “Banksyed”. No one had expected (except, perhaps, a few?) the artwork from 2006 to garner worldwide headlines, but it is Banksy’s art we are talking.

The anonymous British street artist that goes by the name Banksy is notoriously popular for his subversive, darkly humorous, and questioning art, poignantly coloured with social and political commentaries. From when he made the walls of Bristol his slate as Robin Banx to going under high-profile gavels, Banksy’s rollercoaster life has been a subject that many keenly explore. He told his friend, author Tristan Manco: “As soon as I cut my first stencil, I could feel the power there. I also like the political edge. All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars.” As could be extrapolated, his other works include representing Queen Elizabeth II as a chimpanzee, installing an image of Mona Lisa with a smiley-face sticker for her face, and letting 164 live rats run amok inside a gallery during his Crude Oils exhibition in London. [1]

The subject of his $1.4-million dollar artwork, titled Girl With Balloon, is a young girl letting go (or reaching for, the interpretations vary [2]) a red, heart-shaped balloon. She was not an original for the painting, but had been in existence since 2002, when Banksy stencilled the mural first on a certain wall in London with the inscription: “There is always hope.” Banksy’s work is often characterized as unauthorized street art created without permission, intended for the delight of the public. It is, then, unsurprising that the original mural is not in existence anymore, though reworks (by various individuals) appear peppered throughout London. When the said work arrived to be sold at Sotheby’s, it was a well-loved image, surrounded by Banksy’s favourite and recurring motif – a big gold frame.

The gold frame around his artworks is more a statement than an aesthetic tool: It declares his doubt on the process of auction. He has straight-out pictured his disbelief, almost as if ridiculing the state of affairs in the world of art, in several of his artworks, one of which features two stick-figures talking with each other:

“Does anyone actually take this kind of art seriously?”

“Never underestimate the power of a big gold frame.” [3]

Also, in a neat fashion, the gold frame underscores his displeasure at putting his artworks, which are meant for public consumption, into private, ultra-rich hands via auctions. This continual disquiet, which includes his opposition to the commercialization and commodification of his street art, strikes a chord with his ideology for art. He once told the New Yorker by e-mail: “I give away thousands of paintings for free. I don’t think it’s possible to make art about world poverty and trouser all the cash [4].”

The selling of Banksy’s work in question at an incongruous price airs the buyer’s willingness for the shredded form, which is even more valuable than the original, now that it embodies the element that personifies Banksy. It can be seen without flaw that this artwork became more “interesting” after being shredded, a case mirrored by Sotheby’s itself, by way of their press release that said: “Banksy didn’t destroy an artwork in the auction, he created one. Following his surprise intervention on the night, we are pleased to confirm the sale of the artist’s newly-titled Love is in the Bin, the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction.” [5]

This capitalistic attitude of institutions is precisely what Banksy seeks to reveal via his works. In this particular episode, he pointed the audience’s attention to the auction process in general, and he is helped tremendously by the wild media coverage that this incident received. An institution spills the beans of another – it almost feels poetic. Institutions like auction houses thrive, and do so abundantly because the masses are not heeding them; only a minuscule community follows the well-oiled industry of art.

Thanks to this recent stunt by Banksy, we are all notified of a few key facts:

  • It does not matter how aesthetic or conventional an artwork is, people are willing to pay colossal sums of money to hang them on their walls.

  • Little to no money travels to the artist while their works are in secondary sales (sales that occur between the buyer and the owner, with the artist not seen in the picture).

  • To regain power on their creations, artists have to get their hands a tad dirty by being involved in, but not limited to, such incidents, either with support from institutions or without. [6]

Whether Sotheby’s was hand in hand with Banksy in instrumenting this stunt is a point of contention. I opine that pulling something off like this without someone in the know having your back is quite hard. It is unlikely that the painting with a mechanical contraption at its base could so easily whiz past security checks and metal detectors, if not for Sotheby’s involvement. In an Instagram-posted follow-up video to the fiasco, Banksy showed how he had installed the shredder to the painting back in 2006 in hopes of the painting ever going up for an auction. It is hard to grasp a metal shredder was in working order twelve years after its installation. Careful examination of the video reveals that Banksy was holding a solder by its hot part. All this goes to show that the video could have been faked, that Banksy could have been both the prior owner and the buyer of the painting, that he had deliberately installed a shredder that shuts midway. He may have been the player of this game all along. Maybe …

Meanwhile, Love is in the Bin brings us to our senses by avowing the inconspicuous power structures and the puppeteers that run the show, if you will, that determine which art or artist eats the largest piece of the pie. Works by artists such as Banksy tip us off of the flagrant power imbalances around us, even if the works themselves are subject to erasure by outside forces. Perhaps, that impermanence and corruptibility are what makes those works beguiling. [7]

Attempts like Banksy’s at fissuring the inner of the art industry to a larger audience from inside the industry itself are laudable and welcome. Also, Banksy’s anonymity, which many try to uncover as if necessary, is alluring and crucial to every artwork he creates or stunt he pulls. Having the art world open is encouraged, but his identity, not so much. May Banksy continues to mesmerize our minds and pave a path for similar personalities to arrive at the fore, however subversively or hidden he deems fit.


About the author


Symmetry, overthinking, and the Oxford comma.

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