Bub­ble will burst even­tu­ally

Nottingham Post - - UNDER THE HAMMER - with Nigel Kirk, of Mel­lors & Kirk Auc­tion­eers

IN 1973, to mark his retirement, a larger-than-life fine art auc­tion­eer from Ret­ford named Ru­pert Spencer wrote his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. You might have thought that Go­ing, Go­ing, Gone would be the per­fect ti­tle for the book but Ru­pert - no doubt re­call­ing the many colour­ful char­ac­ters en­coun­tered, and nar­row es­capes from de­mand­ing own­ers or other tricky cus­tomers - called it in­stead Drama at the Sale.

The kind­est thing that one can say is that, as an au­thor, he was a very good auc­tion­eer, writes Nigel Kirk.

But even Mr Spencer, in his prime well-known far beyond Not­ting­hamshire for his quick wit and eru­di­tion on the ros­trum, would have been lost for words at a Sotheby’s sale last Fri­day.

A spon­ta­neous round of ap­plause erupted as the auc­tion­eer knocked down Banksy’s spray paint and acrylic pic­ture Girl with Bal­loon for £860,000 (£1.04 mil­lion with buyer’s pre­mium).

There­upon the pic­ture, one of his best known im­ages, in­stantly and dra­mat­i­cally self-de­struc­ted.

“We’d bet­ter get one of the tech­ni­cians here quickly,” said the auc­tion­eer, some­what plain­tively, fol­lowed by “ladies and gen­tle­men we are go­ing to move on, can I have your at­ten­tion...” - his voice trail­ing off whereas only a few min­utes ear­lier he vis­i­bly seemed to leap for joy in crash­ing down the ham­mer at such a high price.

In the in­evitable video posted on so­cial me­dia, Banksy ex­plained that “a few years ago” he had con­cealed a re­motely trig­gered shred­der in­side the pic­ture’s frame “in case it was ever put up for auc­tion”.

Girl with Bal­loon be­came fa­mous when the im­age ap­peared on a Shored­itch wall. The can­vas ver­sion at Sotheby’s dated from 2006.

An iconic im­age, it was last year voted the UK’S best loved work of art, a fact which may, or may not, in­form one’s view of the pub­lic’s art ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

What is not in doubt is that the in­ci­dent was a bril­liantly suc­cess­ful pub­lic­ity stunt and it cer­tainly puts a new mean­ing on the con­cept of Ki­netic Art.

Banksy’s ‘con­fes­sion’ will be mu­sic to the ears of lawyers ea­ger for the huge fees that seem likely to re­sult from such an un­prece­dented and ex­tra­or­di­nary case as this, if it ever gets to court and the artist, renowned for his “in­vis­i­bil­ity”, turns up.

The risk in an auc­tion lot al­most al­ways passes to the suc­cess­ful bid­der on the fall of the ham­mer.

The seller and Sotheby’s may of course have some dif­fi­culty in per­suad­ing him or her of this. Would you pay up in such cir­cum­stances? The seller too, may also be ad­vised that they have a claim to com­pen­sa­tion and per­haps also dam­ages.

In­ter­est­ingly, I have not heard any­one de­scribe it as an act of van­dal­ism, such as would be the re­ac­tion to the slash­ing of a can­vas in the Na­tional Gallery.

Is that be­cause it seems Banksy him­self was re­spon­si­ble for the pic­ture’s de­struc­tion in protest at its sale?

I sug­gest the rea­son is noth­ing to do with the de­struc­tion of art or some vague, vi­car­i­ous re­sponse to, for ex­am­ple, the “mean­ing” of a work of art by Banksy or Jeff Koons.

It demon­strates per­fectly the fer­vid ex­cite­ment around the colos­sal bub­ble that is the mar­ket for con­tem­po­rary art, a bub­ble that has be­come very large in­deed.

Ev­ery­one knows it is ab­surd, but par­tic­i­pants in the mar­ket con­vince them­selves they’ll sell in time. Such greed, on the part of newly rich ‘in­vestors’ who are smart at mak­ing but not spend­ing money; the artists; the in­ter­me­di­aries, those many spe­cial­ist deal­ers and the big auc­tion­eers (who in­creas­ingly bro­ker pri­vate deals or part own the works of art they sell); and, worst of all that new species, the Art Ad­vi­sor.

It is no sur­prise that con­flicts of in­ter­est are rife at all lev­els of the art mar­ket.

When the bub­ble fi­nally bursts, Dan Thom­son’s re­cent (2016) prophetic book The Or­ange Bal­loon Dog could be­come a col­lec­tor’s item.

How is it pos­si­ble for $1.7 bil­lion to be spent at con­tem­po­rary art auc­tions in just 48 hours at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, as hap­pened in 2014?

It can be ar­gued that apart from a few re­ally great artists, from Michelan­gelo to Pi­casso, al­most all other fine art is de­riv­a­tive or merely dec­o­ra­tive. There is noth­ing wrong with that, but for the last few years the mar­ket for high end con­tem­po­rary art has been like a game of snakes and lad­ders with­out the snakes.

The whole point of a graf­fiti artist is to be con­tro­ver­sial, sub­ver­sive and direct. For them the term “van­dal” is a mark of rel­e­vance, if not re­spect. Like them or loathe them, Banksy’s sense of irony is of­ten highly amus­ing.

Quot­ing Pi­casso, he added “the urge to de­stroy is also a cre­ative urge”.

A hun­dred years from now the work of one of these will be highly es­teemed on many lev­els. Where will that of the other be?

Mel­lors & Kirk does not han­dle con­tem­po­rary art (not yet at least) and I won’t be writ­ing an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy any time soon!

■ See more from the auc­tion house at www.mel­lor­sand­kirk.com

PIC­TURES: SOTHEBY’S/ PA WIRE

Banksy’s art­work, Girl With Bal­loon which shred­ded it­self af­ter be­ing sold for more than £1 mil­lion at auc­tion

The can­vas passes through a shred­der in­stalled in the frame

BANKSY / PA WIRE

A video posted on Banksy’s in­sta­gram ac­count show­ing the street artist mak­ing a shred­der to fit in the frame

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