In an art world going crazy you must thank God for Banksy. A famous Banksy artwork - "Girl With Balloon" - was the very final item at an auction at Sotheby's on Friday and had just been sold for £1.02m ($1.4 million) when a mechanism hidden in the bottom of the frame started shredding it.
The self-destroying prank was memorable and worked beautifully with the shredded artwork left hanging from the bottom of the frame. On Instagram Banksy commented "Going, going, gone…", capturing the astonished and lost faces of the art collectors gathered at the auction.
The artist explained in a short video posted on Instagram how years ago, he secretly built and hid a shredder into the painting frame in case it was ever put up for auction. The mechanism must have been remotely activated by somebody (the artist?) present at the auction.
"It appears we just got Banksy-ed," stated Alex Branczik, Sotheby's senior director and head of contemporary art in Europe. But, rather than about being "Banksy-ed", when you look at the pictures of the shredded painting and think about the art world, the acceptance speech of artist Marlene Dumas, during the award ceremony of the Johannes Vermeer Prize 2012, come to your mind: "Sometimes I think…blessed are they, who have been spared the frenzy of the auction houses."
Because, you see, there are undoubtedly great artists and exhibitions all over the world, each of them inspiring for different reasons. But, at the same time, art has turned into a pretentious exercise for millionaires who may not be interested in art pieces with any kind of powerful universal message about them, but in artworks with great visual Instagrammable potential (not to mention how Biennale events and art fairs too often become places not to exchange ideas and communicate with artists, but colourful backgrounds for fashion pictures - fashion influencers have been having an affair with London's Frieze for quite a few years now, but the art on display is mainly used in their pics as a background to showcase their "outfit" and their "look of the day" rather than as a way to make a comment about the state of the art world...). That's why Banksy's anarchic gesture at Sotheby's worked particularly well and put a smile on the face of many passionate art fans.
Unfortunately Banksy has also ended up contributing to increasing the value of the artwork: with all the media attention the stunt got, the painting may now have increased to around £2m in value, which means the anonymous bidder who won it may decide to keep it as it is. But, in case artwork had lost its value, the anonymous buyer could refuse to pay for it as the piece was "damaged" after the sale but before delivery to the client, which means the auction house is still responsible for it (if it had happened after it had been sent to the winning bidder, responsibility would have naturally passed to the client).
Auction houses looking for hip crowds of bidders and young wealthy collectors and launching trendy events about contemporary (and slightly more affordable) art, interior design and fashion pieces (think about Sotheby's Contemporary Curated sales), will probably fall in love even more with Banksy after this stunt.
That said, this act of self-destruction reminiscent of the K Foundation burning a million quid, still points at the fact that too often vapid works of art are sold for millions in the currently inflated art market.
"Girl With Balloon" first appeared as a graffiti on a wall in Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch, London, and was voted last year UK's best-loved work of art. This painted version may end up becoming even more popular than Banksy's highest-selling piece ever - "Keep It Spotless", an original Damien Hirst painting defaced with a graffiti showing a hotel maid pulling up Hirst's artwork to sweep under it (sold for $1.8 million in 2008).
The prank at Sotheby's actually made you think: Banksy created art while destroying it and laughing at a market completely out of control. Some kind of prank along the same line should be played at the fashion industry that has turned into an incredibly pretentious and elitist machine while making people believe fast fashion retailers have "democratised" fashion. There are some comedians trying to inject into the industry a healthy dose of fun and laughter, but a prank à la Banksy played during a fashion week would surely be the best thing (what about seeing an incredibly beautiful fashion collection that then self-destroyed?). Somehow you know that seeing the horrified look on some of the celebrities, editors and influencers on the front row would be as priceless as seeing the faces of the astonished and shocked art collectors while the "Girl With Balloon" quietly self-destroyed in front of them.