Sothebys, New Bond Street
13th – 14th Oct 2018
The art world lives in a truly weird parallel biosphere: it wears different clothes, eats different food, holidays in places Club 18-30 does not reach and it treasures bizarrely different values. Condemning art world indulgences and privilege is something the art world itself does not seem to be terribly fond of however when it is Banksy firing a bolt through art world sensibility without a shred of doubt whole world notices!
“Going, Going, Gone”; photo: Banksy (instagram)
The basic facts have been circulating since Friday last and the fact that you are reading this suggests you won’t be plucking splinters from your stripped wood floor out of your chin at mention of a Banksy Girl With Balloon painting that shredded itself at a Sotheby’s auction Friday before last.
As the braying arty rich assembled for London Art Week, each of the major auction houses felt compelled to maintain their profile in the swanky art market place by drinking champagne paid for with other people’s money and holding their contemporary art auctions. The highlight of the Sotheby’s auction was to be a Banksy which since the auction has received prior acclaim as possibly the best of the copies of this image, expecting a new PB auction result for Banksy etc etc.
Catalogue extract courtesy Sothebys
In roomful of suits and pearl necklaces, the auctioneer’s gavel came down selling the artwork which was conveniently mounted on a wall, at a price that matched Banksy’s previous highest price for an artwork. At that moment the art slipped out of the frame through a shredder to the accompaniment of what sounded like an artic truck reversing towards the rostrum.
Luckily the moment was captured on film and appeared on Banksy’s website and Instagram account this week. Or should that say “Curiously, the moment was captured…” As the bidding nudged towards a new record for Banksy’s art, someone in the room was not concentrating on the flamboyant auctioneer at all but happened to be filming the artwork as the auction ended, what were the chances huh? Photos of the suspected cameraman who is, along with many others in the room, suspected of not being Banksy are out there should you wish to locate them.
Sothebys, October 5th 2018, video courtesy Banksy website
Speculation and conspiracy surround this particular stunt by Banksy. Could this really have been fabricated in 2006 in anticipation that it might appear in an auction years later? How many would Banksy have to make to ensure that the stunt could be executed in public rather than stymied by a private sale? Was it pure chance that this particular art piece would be mounted so visibly on the auction room wall rather than just wheeled in, given its 2 minutes in the sunlight on an auctioneer’s easel then trundled out again? Back in 2006 we had yet to experience the first of the gold plated white gloved Urban Art Auctions (Bonhams, covered here), could anyone have reasonably predicted that Banksy’s art would be so lauded (i.e. expensive) as to be the highlight of an art week contemporary art auction 12 years down the line?
The stunt is a work of genius in its production, execution (Sotheby’s involvement?) and impact. Banksy of course is mocking the art world’s obsession with wealth, value and profit before actual art.
Was Plan A that Girl With Balloon would shred itself to complete destruction? If it had Banksy would have highlighted to perfection the precariousness and ephemerality of the trivia to which the art world attaches its highest valuations. We won’t know ever.[see UPDATE below]
Ironically the attention that this stunt garnered has stimulated speculation that the value of this specific piece has actually soared. Sothebys put out a press release which confirmed that the purchaser is proceeding with completion of the sale, suggesting the buyer certainly seems to think so.
“When the hammer came down last week and the work was shredded, I was at first shocked, but gradually I began to realise that I would end up with my own piece of art history.”
said the rich female European collector (Sotheby’s press release). You can but imagine horror and a completely different press release if the shredding had gone on to completion, one suspects the art world would have more of a struggle to see that relic as an artwork. As insurance against someone with a car door fob accidentally reactivating the shredder it would seem sensible if the buyer removed any batteries located in the frame!
Sotheby’s press release also had a statement from a Sotheby’s suit describing this as a new Banksy “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..”; so declared Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art, Europe
Banksy’s authentication agency Pest Control issued a Certificate of Authenticity so confirming that in its reconfigured form this remains an art work by Banksy and gave it the title “Love Is In The Bin”, a jokey reference to the nickname applied to Banksy’s image Love Is In The Air, also known as the Flower Chucker, which inspired more ripoff teeshirts than any other Banksy painting. Love Is In The Bin has been dated as 2018.
That change of title and more importantly, changing the date of the artwork to 2018 as opposed to say “2006 and 2018” or “2006 modified 2018” neatly swerves away from suggestions that the original Sothebys catalogue listing was possibly inaccurate in some of its details.
Dissecting the clues and X-raying the artefacts has all the romance of a debate on whether Father Christmas’s sledge is made with sustainable holly and ivy, it really misses the substance of Banksy’s achievement. This weekend, and now we get closer to the point of this post, Sothebys put the so called new artwork on public display. Queuing was about 45 minutes to an hour on Sunday afternoon, the guards marshalled orderly lines of visitors, the artwork was beautifully hung to be visible from both sides, well lit, well sign posted and well controlled.
The window display on New Bond Street trumpets the next swish expensive auction, called “The Midas Touch” but doesn’t the display look exactly like some gold has been passed through a shredder? Thats art world alchemy right there, even shredding can be turned into gold.
When we say “well sign posted”, someone in Sotheby’s signage department couldn’t handle the complexity of the new title and left it suggesting something rather more fetishistic than Pest Control probably intended.
The catalogue listing for the original “Girl With Balloon” piece described the work as “signed and dedicated on the reverse”, presumably what looks like black tape in a recess on the back is masking the dedication but there’s the signature in all its glory.
Barely 200 yards from Sotheby.s is the now far less iconic but I would argue much superior specimen of Banksy art, Shop Till You Drop.
This afternoon it was completely deserted!
Banksy may have a lot of disparaging things to say about the art world but the ironic effect of his stunt is to draw far more people into the bosom of the opulent, canape nibbling, air kissing art world and none to the very close by street art masterpiece, whilst simultaneously ramping up the commodification of his art.
Banksy – you’ve clearly got to up your shredding game here!
17th October UPDATE:
Last Sunday Graffoto said “Was Plan A that Girl With Balloon would shred itself to complete destruction? If it had Banksy would have highlighted the precariousness and ephemerality of the trivia to which the art world attaches its highest valuations. We won’t know ever. ”
WRONG! (at least the last sentence anyway) Banksy “Shredding The Girl And Balloon – Director’s Cut” just released shows plan A WAS complete destruction
Photos Dave Stuart (instagram), except where noted