If you were consuming any of the print reaction to Banksy’s latest statement against the culture industry, you may have read that the art world was “stunned” and “slammed” by last week’s Sotheby’s auction, at which the artist set up one of his prints to shred the moment it was sold.
By contrast, online reaction to the stunt was mostly derisory, more firmly cementing Banksy’s odd place in modern media, lionised by the more traditional organs of the press as a radical anarchist, and near-universally mocked on social media as a sixth-form poseur.
“My roommate banksy is at it again,” wrote @electrolemon on Twitter, in a typical joke way back in 2014, “he made coffee and put something inside that would ‘REALLY’ wake me up”. This he posted above an image of a piece of paper floating in his coffee, on which is written “the government is bad”.
Having been one of the most sure-footed web-mythologisers of the 2000s, there’s a sense that Banksy’s current commentary is leaden and heavy-handed, where once it seemed exciting and revelatory. The collective shrug received by his Dismaland parody theme park – finally someone taking a pop at Disney! – was a recent sign that the finger on the spray-can was no longer on the pulse. More unsettling still, besides the critiques of his tone or style, many felt the stunt itself didn’t even ring true.
Step forward self-proclaimed art nerd Jason Bailey, who went into a deep dive on the Banksy stunt on artnome.com. Analysing the video Banksy published, which purported to show the mechanism of the frame and has since been taken down – Bailey laid out a coherent thesis for what he thinks happened.
This he does with a great deal of detail and a charmingly smug affect that rather adds to proceedings; analysing the gears of the shredder, he also digests the probabilities that Banksy’s work would randomly end up being the last sale of the day, and how on Earth Sotheby’s didn’t notice a giant bloody shredder with a battery hooked up to it.
His conclusion is; they almost certainly did notice it, and while the mechanism would probably have worked as described, Sotheby’s would almost certainly have been in cahoots. This claim was bolstered by the chipper, not-at-all bothered statement Sotheby’s released after the stunt (which, incidentally, is estimated to have doubled the work’s value).
Bailey ends by saying that the whole thing is “pretty damaging”, since “there is nothing less cool than being a sock puppet for the industry you are claiming to rebel against”.
By feeding the hand he bites, one can’t help thinking Banksy is very much a rebel without a cause, or even a point.