Banksy’s “subversive” publicity stunt was a smashing succe$$!
If I were the buyer, I’d be thrilled. Of the more than 750 similar fine art “limited editions” of the same print, starting at $50,000 each, this is the only one the marketing mastermind has outfitted with a self-destruction device (which also creates a new work of conceptual art).
Elite artist, worth roughly $20,000,000, pulls insider publicity stunt, tickles bidders at auction, and makes front page news around the world.
The artist had a shredding device installed on the back of one of his ostentatiously framed stencils, and as soon as it was sold at Sotheby’s for a chilling $1,000,000, it miraculously self-shredded. Ostensibly, this wasn’t coordinated, even if the value of the work will likely increase because of the predicted/predictable notoriety of the stunt (worthy of the Joker in a Batman re-run). The image shredded about halfway, leaving an aesthetically satisfying artifact for the buyer, while adding value in terms of coupling it with a conceptual art stunt (not to mention feel-good politics for the whole family).
And that’s why the buyer should be overjoyed at the surprise toy in their happy meal. Anyone who knows anything about the art of the last hundred years knows that art since Duchamp’s “Fountain” isn’t a captivating visual image wrought in visual language: it’s an inert thing that works as a conversation piece.
In this case that probably works. The original image, taken on its own, doesn’t have much going for it. Sure, we get the symbolism of the girl’s dreams slipping out of her hand. It also unfortunately kinda’ looks like she’s giving a Seig Heil. If you look long enough the anatomy of her right arm, and especially her ear are agonizingly tortured. As an image itself, it’s, well … bad.
Those present weren’t taken aback. Nobody was upset. They were ecstatic, smiling and chortling, with everyone whipping out their smart phones to take videos for social media. It was a party trick for the art elite, and worked wonderfully as planned. You can see how pleased the attendees were in the video below, and hear one woman say, “Oh, this is so coooool.”.
And on that level, I sorta’ like it, too. If I were working in the capacity of attending auctions to bid for whomever could bother to show up, I’d enjoy the diversion and surprise. When you are at work, these little things can make the day less long. But as an attack on the system?
It’s a gesture that is supposed to be seen as undermining big money in art, but just having something on auction at Sotheby’s for a millions bucks makes Banksy an enormous beneficiary of the system he is posing as attacking.
Sure, sure, we know the legend of the unknown graffiti artist Banksy, who says he doesn’t want to make money off his guerrilla art. Yeah, and the man behind the mask has an art dealer in Bristol, Huw Lougher, who sells his signed prints for $20,000 – $40,000 a year. This anti-art establishment hero makes off one print of a stencil as much as many people make working for a year. But I guess he’s against someone else selling it for a million?
His most popular print, the girl with the balloon, sells for $165,000 a pop, in an edition of 150. Let me do the math here. Eh, $24,000,000 in the Bank-sy. BOOM BABY! FIGHT THE POWER! But wait, there’s 600 more unsigned editions that go for a mere $50,000 each. Another $30,000,000. So, you’ll have to forgive the starving artists of the world for being just a tad skeptical about Banksy undermining the moneyed art-world from the outside. [For more on how he makes his money, see How Does Banksy Make Money? (Or, A Quick Lesson in Art Market Economics)]
I think most artists are struggling just to be able to make art at all and survive with all their teeth. This dude’s making mint off F’ing prints of stencils and bitching about the corrupt art world. Gimmie a break!
That probably has something to do with why artist, Eric Küns stenciled over Banksy’s art as a prank, for which, incidentally, he received $0.
Küns disappeared in 2013. Probably too hard to survive as an artist, especially if you are going against the establishment. Also, his “Existentialist Stencil Fly” didn’t catch on as well as the little girl with a balloon.
The mega-celebrity artist, on the other hand, whose art is in the collections of such art luminaries as Brad Pitt and Christina Aguillera, was making a political statement about how his art isn’t for sale, and he’s an anti-establishment revolutionary who’s fighting up against oppression. In short, he’s not oppressed, he’s comfortably in the small fractions of a percentage point of the richest living people.
Can you be a multi-millionaire darling of the art world and be fashionably against it? Yes, and you’ll make even MORE money! It’s a win-win situation for everyone in the art world who’s already fabulous and fabulously wealthy! [Kinda’ reminds me of the appeal of certain gurus, like OSHO, who grant that even a robber baron can be enlightened if he meditates… and donates to the ashram!]
A calculated prank that brings one of the richest living artists more accolades and doubtlessly increases his prices in places such as Sotheby’s, is as exciting as watching a magic trick presented as real magic when you already know how it’s done. Kinda’ cute. I’m mostly impressed with the technology, and that it was remotely triggered (which means the stencil is even less interesting than the gimmick),
The machine that was supposed to be a criticism of Sotheby’s, and selling street art as collectible artifacts, bolstered both the industry, and the artist’s career, thus revealing itself as merely another incarnation of THE MACHINE, with a twist of lime.
True, Banksy never managed to captivate my interest, because neither his use of stencils nor his political statements were less then several removes from original, in which case I could find better examples of either elsewhere, and a decade prior. I think his appeal is accessibility, and bumper-sticker-level political activism.
I can sum up this super-elite artist spectacle in one word = Boringsy.
In his defense, there’s even more boring shit on metaphoric and real pedestals in the art-world.
Just remembered an oil pastel I made around 30 years ago of a boy with a balloon:
Last I dared check, it was slotted, along with all of my physical art, for the garbage heap because I can’t afford to pay for storage. THAT is the kind of reality most living artists live in. But, yeah, my heart goes out to Banksy for destroying one of hundreds of copies of one of his own stencils, and profiting off of it astronomically.
Also, the graffiti artist who stenciled over Bansky is a prank by me. Didn’t really happen. I made the images in PS in 2013, as well as the article, as a humorous form of art criticism.