Last night at Sotheby’s in London, the last lot of the night was the gallery version of the famous Banksy picture of ‘Girl With Balloon’. The original had been daubed on a Shoreditch wall back in 2002, with the gallery version stencilled onto canvas. So popular was the image that variations have appeared almost constantly ever since, and the picture was voted the nations favourite piece of art last year. We’ve framed many Banksy prints over the years, and one original!
However, as the hammer fell at Sothebys, with a final sale price of over £1 million, the picture started to slide out of its elaborate and rather oversized gold frame and through a shredder hidden inside. The lacerated canvas hung half way out of the frame whilst stunned onlookers clambered with their phones to catch a photo and the bemused auctioneer beckoned porters to remove the picture from the room. Some say Banksy was there in the room and remotely triggered the shredder mechanism.
Many of Banksy’s paintings have been destroyed over the years, mostly by accident or by local authorities removing them as ‘graffiti’, but why would he destroy one of his most popular pieces of work? Thinking back, Keith Moon was famous for smashing up his drum kit during a concert, and many guitarists including Pete Townshend, Kurt Cobain and Garth Brookes have destroyed their instruments on stage in the name of their art, so was Banksy doing the same? Perhaps it was done in protest of the millions of copycat and unauthorised poster prints of the image that have been created over the years. Perhaps it was just a publicity stunt, or perhaps it was to make a point - two-fingers to the capitalism that has destroyed the underlying reason for the artwork in the first place – raising awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees.
Well, if it was a protest against the copies, then destroying the original certainly is a strong message, but won’t affect poster sales in the slightest. If it was a publicity stunt, then it has worked spectacularly. If it was fingers-up to the capitalists, then this may have backfired as it has been rumoured that the semi-shredded item is now worth more than it was in one piece! So perhaps it was a strategic move by Banksy to increase his stock value all along?
Whatever the reasoning behind it, I think it was a inspired move and have no doubt that Banksy knew exactly what he was doing. To orchestrate such a display, with military precision and technicality, in front the eyes of millions without being detected is a trademark Banksy trait. The man is a genius.