By now everyone knows about the Banksy artwork, Girl with Balloon, that sold for $1.4 million at Sotheby's and promptly began to self destruct upon sale. I'm not even going to show a picture of the piece here because I'm so steamed by the whole thing. I've been toying about writing about it for a while, but have been reluctant to do so, but I can hold my tongue, or fingers, no longer!
There are things about this issue that make me want to tear my hair out, but that's not the point of this post. This is a critical look at what the heck is going on that allows this type of thing to happen.
Subversive behaviour in art, artists thumbing their nose at the art world, the critics, galleries, museums, etc., isn't new. This Banksy guy didn't invent it. Artists have been provoking the art world for ages. In 1917, Marcel Duchamps created Fountain, a urinal basically placed on its back and remounted on a pedestal to convey his disdain for the art world's judgments about the quality of work being based more on hype and money rather than quality.
Here's what gets me, I too, am frustrated by the art world at times. It does appear that quality is often judged more by the sizzle than the steak, so to speak. I get that. But what exactly does biting the hand that feeds accomplish and isn't that exactly what Banksy did? Let's be real here, as artists, especially when we get to a certain level, we rely on critics, galleries, museums, etc., to provide us with a venue in which to show and market our work. They are, for better or worse, still the gatekeepers to the upper echelons of the so-called art world. If it were me, after this last stunt, this shredder business, I'd stop dealing with him altogether. I mean, can you imagine how horrified the buyer was, after paying all that money to see the piece literally destroying itself? I have collectors that freak out if a painting is delayed a day in shipping, delayed, fully in tact, but delayed by the post office. Or how initially nervous Sotheby's would have been, terrified that their credibility was somehow now hanging in the balance? In any event, if the will existed, the art world could freeze him out, black ball him, you know like they do in Hollywood when someone becomes so distasteful that to even utter their name in hushed tones is verboten (think Mel Gibson, Michel Richards, Roseanne). If no one will market his work, his antics don't mean a whole lot do they. I mean, it's just like when a toddler throws a tantrum, once you finally ignore the bad behaviour, it eventually extinguishes itself. Yeah, freeze him out!
Great idea, right? Sure, in theory, but it won't happen. The machine is too big and it's self feeding. The art world as a collective will never freeze him out. Why? Because they exist, like any other business, to make money. They have to make money to survive, so where there's hype and where there's a potential to turn a profit, they're there. Even if there was some sort of pact to black ball him, one eventually would cave and deal with him again because the lure of the dollar is just too great. And you know what? Banksy knows this. He knows full well he's got them by the throat ( I wanted to say something else, but I'm trying to keep it clean). If he had thought there was any chance, even the slightest one, that this would ruin his career, that the cheques would stop rolling in, I seriously doubt he'd have done it. Don't be fooled, he's no more thumbing his nose at the art world than I am a medical doctor! This was a stunt and he is feeding the hand that feeds, not biting it. The stunt creates more hype, so more people talk about it and more people are interested in his work and it can increase in value, then there will be bigger cheques for all, the machine continues to eat! It's kinda like complaining that your boss is a jerk, but continuing to go into work every day, smile and cash those paycheques. Are you really protesting that hard?
In the final analysis, although I really hate the truth of this, I'm not sure whether to hate Banksy or shake his hand for pulling off the best and most ingenious marketing ploy in recent history.