Banksy’s ‘Girl with a red balloon’ partly shredded (A grab from official video).
My first reflexive reaction to Banksy’s painting ‘Girl with a balloon’ getting shredded as soon as the final bid of $1.4 million was realized at Sotheby’s was “Everyone is in on this stunt.” I had no basis then or now to feel that way but I did and continue to do.
“Everyone” may be bit of an overstatement because I do not know if the buyer knew about it or for that matter anyone other than the artist knew about it. Like I said, it was a reflexive response to a reasonably entertaining act of “defiance” of the tyranny of the art market. I have put quotes around defiance because if Banksy was genuinely disillusioned with the insane commercialization of art—my description and not his—he should not have made it available for sale in the first place. There is no requirement that artists must exhibit their works and even find ways to sell them. It is not mandatory.
All creative pursuit is an act of conceit where the creator wants a response or a rise, not to mention money. So let’s put aside any non-sense about how Banksy is carrying out a single-handed campaign against crass commercialization.
The installation of a shredder was a clear forethought of the statement he wanted to make. As a side note, wasn’t he required to indicate the hazard that those potentially harmful jagged teeth of the shredder posed? here in America pharmacies feel compelled to put a label on medicines that says, “Take one capsule by mouth”. I would think that a remotely operated shredder inside a picture frame would necessitate some warning to someone.
I was in the process of crafting a list of questions when I chanced upon an excellent piece by Ben Davis and Eileen Kinsela of Artnet casting serious doubts about the whole prank. Davis and Kinsella pose all the right questions, numbering eight, that demand answers from all concerned, including Banksy.
One of the questions they ask is “What did Sotheby’s make of the Instagram video showing Banksy installing the shredder?” They detail it saying, “The video, posted to the artist’s account after the sale, raises as many questions as it answers. When was the shredder installed? In 2006, when the work was made? Or at some point afterward (it actually only says “A few years ago”)? Documentation has always been part of his practice, but did Banksy really shoot a video of the installation more than a decade ago (pre-smartphone and definitely pre-Instagram), and hang on to it just in case?”
The shredder inside the painting’s frame (Photo:A grab from Banksy’s official video)
I have some questions that they did not ask. How was the timing of the shredding precisely at the end of the bidding achieved? Was Banksy or someone else authorized by the artist in the room or in the vicinity to trigger the shredder remotely? Or, was it done over a mobile connection? If it was the last, then it would have required some pretty slick mechanism to monitor and trigger at the right time to achieve the effect it appeared to do in the auction hall.
After watching a video of Banksy or someone authorized installing it struck me that with that kind of contraption inside the frame ought to have weighed suspiciously heavy. In this day and age of paranoia over terrorism, did no one at Sotheby’s find it unusual to wonder about the heaviness and clarify? After all they are known to quibble over a single pigment in a painting to establish authenticity.
The video has explanation, “A few years ago I secretly built a shredder into a painting in case it was ever put up for auction…” The easiest way for Banksy to avoid that fate would have been to not let anyone else have it in the first place. The purpose of making it public even while not losing control over its eventual fate could have been easily achieved by holding a limited exhibition.
My most important question is about the precise point at which the shredding stopped.It could well be accidental but my gut tells me that even that was calibrated. The shredding stops in a way where one can see the girl’s head and part of her hand, apart from the full balloon, quite clearly. I wouldn’t be surprised if even that was deliberate.
Finally, the news came that in a “surprise” that the mystery buyer, a female, will keep the partly shredded work. I tweeted on October 11, “Did anyone ever doubt the buyer would happily keep it? Its price has probably doubled now.”
As my own gimmick, I too quickly painted and “shredded” a version.