On Banksy: The Art Establishment is In the Bin

Banksy just punked the art world and Sotheby’s and I love it. It’s hard to have a magazine that promotes art for the public and not mention Banksy. Last week’s stunt captures the essence of this magazine.

Banksy is a street artist who's ability to mix art with humour and social messaging is so good it’s become a cliché. That level of notoriety is a huge success but also a very difficult cage to break out of. I don’t know that he managed it when he shredded his own print at an auction, but he definitely beat himself at his own game.

To me, this is the quintessential act against the establishment. His body of work, largely street art stenciled onto walls, is made for the passerby. For you and me and everyone else who walks past it and contemplates the war between his rats and English bobbies. His stuff doesn’t stay locked in someone’s Manhattan penthouse or in the safe of some museum, it becomes a public landmark. The very act of selling it at Sotheby’s is anathema to the spirit of the work.

That’s what’s so funny about the whole thing. The people appreciating it don’t see the irony, or if they do they don’t care. By not caring they destroy its intrinsic value. So he fucking shredded it. What an animal.

He’s become so identified with his message that the very act of shredding the painting has been viewed as piece of performance art. I can sort of get that but at the same time it feels like he could tell them all to fuck off and they’d try to collect the sound clip. I think it even gained in monetary value. That all speaks also to the commodification of art. It’s almost more important that his work is sellable than that its message or its intrinsic worth is preserved.

It took Sotheby’s no time at all to re-brand the piece as the first piece of art made during an auction. Get your gavels ready, because the next time this goes up for auction it’ll turn one hell of a profit if it doesn’t blow up. I don’t know if Banksy is proud of that, but to me they’re living out the message of the new piece.

In this case, life might be imitating art.