Written by Jyotsna Iyer, a second-year undergraduate student.
Art and artists have played an influential role in shaping the society that exists and critiquing the same society. As a field, art has often been mysterious and controversial. Banksy is one of the most talked-about artists in the world and has yet been successful in maintaining anonymity. Banksy is an England-based artist who started out with (illegal) graffiti art that they mostly paint on public-owned walls. Some of Banksy’s works, which were painted on privately-owned walls, were removed and sold by the owners of the walls for large sums of money. The most baffling piece of fact is that in these cases, none of the money goes to Banksy. Some of the most common themes in Banksy’s graffiti and other paintings are anti-capitalism, portraying materialism, anti-oppression, and solidarity with the victims of oppression.
While a lot of these themes are political in nature or depict social issues, some of their paintings carry themes as simple as love. Two main reasons for Banksy being a global sensation are the messages conveyed and controversy stirred by some of the works; and their anonymity. The artist has shown a dislike for privatization of art and art being sold at alarmingly high prices. Events such as auctions act as mediums for the rich to acquire art privately at high prices. It is to mock these concepts that Banksy uses his signature gold frame, to depict the materialism and shallowness of the uber-rich art crowd.
One of his most famous graffiti included the words ‘This will look nice when it’s framed,’ ironically highlighting that art can exist free of cost for the public, without the need to be acquired privately. However, the most talked-about ‘anti-auction’ stunt pulled off by Banksy was his self- shredding painting: ‘Girl with balloon.’ The painting was first made as graffiti in 2002 and then was recreated repeatedly. The same painting on a canvas in Banksy’s signature golden frame was placed at an auction at Sotheby’s auction house in London in 2018. As soon as the painting was auctioned off, it started shredding through the frame.
The artist shared a post on Instagram, explaining that they installed a shredder in the frame, and planned the painting to be shredded as soon as it is auctioned. While it is believed that this stunt was an act of rebellion against the concept of elite art auctioning by the artist, what followed was ironic. The shredded painting was sold on 14th October 2021for 25.4 million dollars. The irony is that the price at which the original painting was sold was 1.4 million dollars. While Banksy made it clear that the auction house was not in on it, Sotheby’s did use the shredding stunt to increase the painting’s monetary value. They renamed the half- shredded painting as ‘Love is in the bin’ and claimed it to be the first piece of art to be created live at an auction.
Now that the painting has been sold at a much higher price than what it was sold at earlier, one would expect that the stunt earned Banksy a great deal of money. However, that is very far from what is actually believed to happen. It is believed that none of this money goes to Banksy, and one of the reasons behind this is his anonymity. In popular perception, Banksy is said to earn money by selling his work at small street shops and some online portals at small prices. There have been numerous reported cases where people have bought original Banksy paintings for a small price and sold them at exponentially higher prices to their own profit. The case of the self- shredding painting reminds us of how art is very dynamic and can be used to create large social ripples with underlying meanings and intentions.
Headline image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Banksy_Girl_and_Heart_Balloon_(2840632113).jpg
Image by Dominic Robinson from Bristol, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons