Banksy shred­der stunt shows it’s about the money …and the buzz

Stephanie Dieck­voss, a se­nior lec­turer at Kingston Univer­sity in Lon­don, was at the Sotheby’s sale where a work by Bris­tol street artist Banksy self-de­struc­ted af­ter be­ing sold for £1 mil­lion. Here she takes a closer look at the in­ci­dent

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - The Long Read -

SE­RI­OUS col­lec­tors of con­tem­po­rary art had al­ready started to leave the room at the Sotheby’s New Bond Street auc­tion house in Lon­don last Fri­day night as a suc­cess­ful evening sale drew to a close.

Most peo­ple seemed more in­ter­ested in get­ting to their post-auc­tion din­ners than in the fi­nal two lots: paint­ings by KAWS and Banksy, who are gen­er­ally per­ceived to be in­ter­est­ing for new or young buy­ers but not se­ri­ous col­lec­tors.

KAWS, the Amer­i­can graffiti artist also known as Brian Don­nelly, is seen as too comic; Banksy as too “street”.

That doesn’t mean they are not in high de­mand. KAWS’ large yel­low comic face, Again and Again, sold for just over £1 mil­lion, mak­ing him – in the words of auc­tion­eer Oliver Barker – the Damien Hirst of the 21st cen­tury. And the last lot of the sale was Banksy’s 2006 Girl with Bal­loon, which was last year named in one sur­vey as the UK’s favourite art­work.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, bid­ding was in­tense and the ham­mer came down at £860,000, mak­ing a fi­nal sales price (in­clud­ing buyer’s fees) of £1,042,000 – qua­dru­pling the pre­vi­ous es­ti­mate of the work.

But the mo­ment af­ter the ham­mer came down a faint alarm went off in the room and, shortly af­ter, in front of a room­ful of gaw­ping faces, the can­vas slipped out of the frame, be­ing shred­ded in the process by some con­cealed ma­chine, be­fore be­ing hur­riedly car­ried away by at­ten­dants.

Un­der near chaotic cir­cum­stances, the sale ended. At the de­layed press con­fer­ence, all Sotheby’s ex­perts would say was: “We got Banksy-ed”. And all they did was to re­it­er­ate that they had no prior knowl­edge of the prank, fail­ing to shift at­ten­tion away from it.

In our me­dia-crazy so­ci­ety, ev­ery­one likes a prank – es­pe­cially when it hits the top end of the art mar­ket, which ex­cludes all but the very rich. So to no­body’s sur­prise this story has gone vi­ral, cheered on by Banksy’s ‘of­fi­cial’ In­sta­gram feed, where he not only claimed own­er­ship of the prank, but also ‘doc­u­mented’ its ge­n­e­sis.

Since then, spec­u­la­tion around the value of the shred­ded piece and Banksy’s role in the art world has led to a lot of hype. But what needs to be con­sid­ered here is not only value gen­er­a­tion in the art mar­ket but ul­ti­mately the role and agency of the artist within the mar­ket’s re­sale struc­ture, where artists usu­ally ben­e­fit only marginally from the re­sale of any of their works.

That the stunt hap­pened dur­ing the Frieze Art Fairs, one of the most im­por­tant art fairs for con­tem­po­rary art world­wide, has also given it added cur­rency.

As a case study, the prank has been so suc­cess­ful that it will oc­cupy the art world – as well as aca­demics and stu­dents of the art mar­ket – for a long time to come. It might even be­come art his­tory’s most fa­mous stunt.

Who are the in­volved par­ties, for ex­am­ple? De­spite a great deal of spec­u­la­tive com­ment, I don’t think Sotheby’s was in on the game. The story re­ally doesn’t ben­e­fit them; it de­tracted from all the other good news the evening was sup­posed to spread.

At this point, Sotheby’s is still claim­ing – and it does sound plau­si­ble – not to have touched the work or its frame, fol­low­ing the in­struc­tions of Banksy’s stu­dio that the frame is an in­te­gral part of the work. Again, not un­usual.

Nei­ther does the in­clu­sion of the piece in the auc­tion come as a sur­prise. As a quick search on Art­net’s price data­base shows, no fewer than 26 works by Banksy have been of­fered this year alone at auc­tion – most of them with very good re­sults above es­ti­mates. Banksy is hot.

So the fact that the work sold for more than £1m is not sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing both the pre­vi­ous auc­tion prices of the artists and the buoy­ant at­mos­phere of the sale that evening.

More in­ter­est­ing, of course, is what the work is worth now. De­spite ex­cite­ment by the press, claim­ing that it would now be worth far more (and what ap­pears to be a copy­cat at­tempt by a col­lec­tor to shred his own print copy of the paint­ing), the case has not been de­cided con­trac­tu­ally yet. In a com­ment to the au­thor, the auc­tion house states it is un­clear whether the sale will go through and that ne­go­ti­a­tions are still on­go­ing.

There is a de­bate to be had that the buyer ob­vi­ously bid on a work in pris­tine con­di­tion – and we won’t know if the work is worth dou­ble its sale price un­til it has been sold again in this state.

It’s a tempt­ing thought – and a ter­rific story – but an artist’s stunt and a week­end buzz are not a guar­an­tor for on­go­ing in­vest­ment value. It will, how­ever, surely alert any auc­tion house to en­sure proper due dili­gence and con­ser­va­tion ex­am­i­na­tions when tak­ing on more of his works.

But where does Banksy stand, as

If this was in­sti­gated

by Banksy as a mar­ket­ing stunt it was a big suc­cess STEPHANIE DIECK­VOSS

some­one who so hap­pily seems to claim to stand out­side the mar­ket? Given he is so against the re­sale of his work, has he at­tempted to sab­o­tage more of his works? As men­tioned above, his paint­ings as well as prints of­ten come up at auc­tion and have been an in­te­gral part of his out­put for years. For street artists who have be­come fa­mous for of­ten rad­i­cal ac­tions, the ques­tion of how to in­ter­act with a col­lec­tor mar­ket has al­ways been a chal­lenge.

But one thing is for sure: if this was in­sti­gated by Banksy as a mar­ket­ing stunt it was a big suc­cess. Even if the fu­ture of this par­tic­u­lar Girl with Bal­loon is as yet un­clear, Banksy’s name will be in ev­ery­body’s mind and his brand value has def­i­nitely risen.

So let’s wait and see what he will pro­duce and sell next. In the mean­time, the peo­ple cash­ing in on this story are also the so-called art ex­perts who keep me­dia out­lets busy with com­ments – most of them, let’s not for­get, un­proven and highly spec­u­la­tive. And as such, this story is a per­fect im­age of the con­tem­po­rary art mar­ket to­day – about money, but at least as much about the buzz.

Gasps as Banksy’s work is shred­ded sec­onds af­ter it sold

‘Again and Again’ by KAWS also came up for auc­tion last Fri­day

Stephanie Dieck­voss

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