Banksy's Latest Stunt May Have Ironic Result

Shredding of print likely increased its value
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 8, 2018 9:06 AM CDT

"We've just been Banksy'ed." So declared Sotheby's of London on Friday after a bizarre stunt apparently pulled off by the elusive artist himself—one of his prints shredded itself just after being sold at auction for $1.4 million. Banksy has since revealed how the shredding of his 2006 "Girl With Balloon" took place, but some think the artist may have inadvertently revealed more than that: perhaps an image of himself, or at the very least a close assistant. Details and developments:

  • The 'how': Banksy posted a video online showing that he built a remote-controlled shredder into the print's frame "a few years ago" so he could destroy the work if it ever went up for auction. The video also captures the initial moments of that happening at Sotheby's, and this video via USA Today shows more reaction from the auction.
  • The ID buzz: The video posted by Banksy appears to be taken from the vantage point of a man who was pictured at Sotheby's filming the scene. You can see an image of him at Lad Bible. He's a middle-aged man with curly hair, and countless online speculators point out that he resembles a street artist named Robin Gunningham, one of the leading suspects in the who-is-Banksy question. "All of this is of course speculation but when it comes to Banksy, let's face it, everything is," observes a post about the auction's "mystery man" at Sky News.
  • ID buzz, II: Caroline Lang, chief of Sotheby's Switzerland, posted an image of another man who appeared to be activating a remote-control device, and she identified him as Banksy, reports the New York Times. Alas, the account is private and the photo unavailable.

  • Inside job? Sotheby's swears it wasn't in on the stunt, but some are skeptical. One dealer tells the Times that he pointed out to staff before the auction that the print's frame was weirdly large, but they had no explanation. "If the upper management knew, I can't speculate." Plus, the print was placed in a relatively hard-to-access viewing spot before the auction, then was sold dead last in the 67-item sale, which was "odd," he says.
  • Good question: If Banksy did indeed embed the shredder a "few years ago," wouldn't the battery have needed replacement since then? So wonders Scott Reyburn at the Times.
  • The irony: Banksy may have been making a statement about what he views as absurd prices for his work, but the stunt likely increased the value of the print, writes Leonid Bershidsky at Bloomberg. Of course, Banksy surely knew that would happen, this being only his "latest contribution to the empirical study of the value of art." That's where his true genius lies, writes Bershidsky.
  • Another take: Sebastian Smee at the Washington Post also digs into Banksy's motivations and theme of destruction in avant-garde art. So what's the main problem in all this? "Is it a system that values art in monetary terms in order for it to be exchanged on the market? Or is it a system in thrall to the currency of publicity and self-promotion? If it’s the latter, Banksy is deeply implicated."
(More Banksy stories.)

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