B1 Intermediate US 22 Folder Collection
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A few weeks ago, a work by British street artist Banksy
went up for auction at Sotheby's London.
Moments after the auctioneer banged his gavel
announcing its sale for over $1.3 million,
a beep sounded and the canvas began
to fall through the bottom of the frame
and emerge in shreds on the other side
just after Banksy posted a picture of it
with the caption going, going, gone
and then followed up with a video showing
how he installed a shredder in the frame in case
it ever went up for auction.
Sotheby's claimed they had no idea
that this was going to happen and had been Banksyed.
And the buyer was anonymous, which is common in auctions.
After a week when media conjecture had
run dry over who knew about it and would the buyer have
to pay for it, Sotheby's put out a press
release explaining that what actually happened
was that a new work by Banksy had been created
at the auction, one that's been authenticated by the artist
and given the new title "Love is in the Bin".
After that, Banksy released a director's cut explaining that
in rehearsals, the paintings shredded fully every time,
including some vertical video to firmly place the rehearsals
in the recent past, proving both that he's a master manipulator
and that his word cannot be trusted.
OK, but let's take a closer look at what this work actually is.
Banksy first painted the image of a child reaching out
toward a red, heart-shaped balloon in London in 2002,
this one with the inscription "There is always hope."
Other versions were made around the city,
but none of the original murals remain
because this, like most of Banksy's work,
was unsanctioned street art made without permission
for the public to enjoy and for property owners or city
government to paint over or protect as they see fit.
Individuals can and have tried to remove and resell
his public art, but for the most part
Banksy's work has been fleeting and free
and is actively planned to be that way by its creator.
The heart balloon appeared alone in 2013
with bandages in Brooklyn and also with kids standing
on a pile of guns at a Central Park art stall on sale for $60.
In 2014, he reworked the girl with balloon image in supported
the With Syria campaign, explaining,
"The red balloon carries the girl above and away
from the chaos below, beyond the burnt-out buildings
and bullet-potted walls."
Also in 2014, Justin Bieber had the image tattooed on his arm.
A version with a Union Jack balloon
surfaced in 2017 in a print Banksy
tried to give away to UK citizens in some constituencies
if they voted against the Conservative Party.
But since it's illegal to accept a gift in return for a vote,
the offer was rescinded.
And a few days later he posted this.
In a 2017 poll, "Girl with Balloon"
beat out both this painting by JMW Turner and this one
by David Hockney to claim the title
of the UK's favorite artwork.
This is all to say that by the time the work in question
arrived at auction it was a well-loved and widely
recognizable image, estimated to sell for as much
as about $400,000 US.
The auction report shares that it's not
a multiple but a unique work made
in 2006 with Banksy's signature method of stenciled spray
paint but this time on canvas instead of on a wall
or as a print on paper.
It was authenticated by Pest Control, the handling
service that acts on the artist's behalf
and authenticates his work.
Sotheby's claims it was acquired directly from the artist
by the unnamed present owner the year
it was made following a show he organized of his work
in an LA warehouse, and it came in that gilded frame--
ah, the frame-- which Sotheby's states was,
quote, "chosen by Banksy himself."
Gold frames are one of the artist's favorite motifs.
In conjunction with that same LA warehouse show,
he released a print that clearly expresses
his dubiousness of the auction process
and even presented it in a ridiculous gold frame.
And for his 2009 exhibition at the Bristol museum,
Banksy mixed his works in with the museum's collection, many
of them in period appropriate frames, helping his art
blend in, at least sort of.
One of these was a gold frame laid over a concrete slab
with one stick figure asking, "Does anyone really take
this kind of art seriously?", and another replying,
"Never underestimate the power of a big gold frame."
A year later, this image appeared on a wall
in San Francisco clearly demonstrating
the uneasy situation Banksy has found himself
in as his profile has risen and more and more people try
to benefit of unauthorized sales and exhibitions of his work.
Now I find it unlikely that no one at Sotheby's knew
what was going to happen with this big gold frame
or that anyone inspecting it would find
nothing suspicious about it.
I also find it unconvincing that Banksy's video
showing his frame construction was made back in 2006
or that it's coincidental that it was
the last lot in the auction.
Banksy very well could have been the prior owner.
Sotheby's doesn't have to disclose that information.
Regardless, what happened indicates
very strongly that people really do take this kind of art
seriously.
They probably would have even if it
hadn't been in the gold frame, but they're certainly
taking it even more seriously now that the frame has
revealed itself to be an integral part of the work.
When he posted his video, Banksy included the quote by Picasso,
"The urge to destroy is also a creative urge."
And Banksy certainly isn't the first artist
to incorporate destruction in art making.
Man Ray made his first indestructible object
in 1923, an altered metronome that the viewer
is instructed to smash when they've reached,
quote, "the limit of endurance."
Robert Rauschenberg is famous for his 1953 erased Willem de
Kooning drawing, and Nicki de Saint Phalle for her 1961
exhibition in which she asks visitors
to fire at her relief paintings with a .22 caliber rifle.
There are many ways a work of art comes into being, be it
an additive process, a subtractive process,
one that must unfold in space and time,
or one that's immaterial, not existing
until the moment it's performed and then disappearing
as soon as it's over.
"Girl with Balloon" was one artwork,
and now it's another that came into being
through a public action but which still very much has
a material presence because the object wasn't destroyed.
It's only half shredded.
And since it was canvas going through,
the remaining fringe is pretty stable.
I can totally see an art packer carefully
crafting a crate that will keep it safe
and sound until its next exhibition.
It really only got more interesting when shredded.
Editioned prints, or paintings of Banksy's images,
even if sanctioned by the artist, are all right,
but they certainly don't have the subversive power
or presence of his art made in and for the public arena.
His gilt frames had served the purpose
of emphasizing the artificiality of putting these images meant
for the public into private hands,
but now one of those frames has revealed
itself to be an agent of insurrection,
however incomplete its act of destruction.
And the art world loves being questioned and criticized.
It's weird.
It's almost like a kind of high-class nagging
which they've even given their own academic-sounding term.
Institutional critique is what they call the art that actively
critiques the structures it lives in
and that make it possible, like museums or galleries
or, in this case, an auction house.
It became a thing after institutions
started to collect more ephemeral and performative
works made by artists in the '60s and '70s
by artists strategically trying to avoid
the traditional spaces for art.
But no matter.
Museums were happy to matriculate
these invasive works and include them in their histories of art,
and in many cases people proved willing to buy them too.
And so it's not at all surprising
when something as straightforwardly material
as this work by Banksy can fetch such a high price at auction,
and it's not surprising either when
its collector is willing to accept it's transformed
and likely even more valuable state,
especially now that post action it
embodies some aspect of the subversion that
makes Banksy Banksy.
It can actually live more comfortably in an exhibition
now than it could before, hanging half
in and out of its frame, telling its own history of Banksy's
shenanigans.
But there's also another important element of this work
that we might be overlooking, and that's the publicity
and press that has swirled around it,
which I'd argue is as much a part of the work as what went
down at Sotheby's.
Banksy is brilliant at attracting attention
and generating controversy.
His anonymity is part of that and something I hope never
goes away.
With this work, he draws attention
to the auction process in general,
which is followed closely only by an extremely tiny community.
Most of us see headlines about multimillion dollar sales,
feel nauseous, and then move on.
The auction system in its current form
survives in part because most people aren't paying attention
to it.
It's a highly efficient way for the international uber-rich
to buy and trade valuable assets.
Sure, some are in the game for good reasons,
but Banksy's action has made us all more
aware of a few key facts.
People are willing to pay ungodly sums of money for art
these days.
With rare exceptions, none of that money goes to the artists.
These are secondary sales, meaning
one owner is selling to another.
Most artists are completely powerless when
their work goes to auction.
To take back some of that power, you might have to get
your hands a little dirty, like when Damien Hirst orchestrated
his own direct-to-auction sale in 2008 and like this recent
stunt by Banksy, which may or may not have been executed with
the cooperation of Sotheby's.
Whether or not we assume what Banksy says is true--
which we really shouldn't--
"Love is in the Bin" still reminds us
of the convoluted power structures
that vie for what art and which artists
get anointed as important and valuable.
We like Banksy's work because it helps us see the gross power
imbalances all around us, even if they're
imperfect and temporary and corruptible by outside forces,
or perhaps we love them more because of those things.
Banksy may seem like less of the pure countercultural rebel he
once was, but I, for one, appreciate
these recent attempts at effecting change, however
small, from the inside, or at least with one foot in and one
foot out, able to capture money from sales
that will happen with or without his blessing,
and perhaps apply those proceeds to new work in the future.
I, for one, will be looking out for some very public
$1.3 million expenditures from Banksy
in the not-too-distant future.
I'll leave it to him to surprise me.
Do you want to know more about money so you can maybe
buy a Banksy one day?
"Two Cents" is a PBS Digital Studios
series about money and you.
Financial experts and husband and wife team Philip Olson
and Julia Lorenz-Olson guide you through the complex world
of personal finance.
You'll get practical knowledge and insight
into how your brain is hardwired to react to economic problems.
Check the link in the description below
to subscribe to "Two Cents."
Thanks to all of our patrons for supporting the "Art
Assignment", especially Vincent Apa and Indianapolis Homes
Realty.
Visit patreon.com/artassignment if you'd like to learn more
about how you can support the channel.
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Behind the Banksy Stunt

22 Folder Collection
nanako.kamiya published on July 23, 2020
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