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Art or farce?

Oct 15,2018
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Before and after the self-destruction of Banksy’s Girl with Balloon. [SOTHEBY’S INSTAGRAM]
MOON SO-YOUNG
The author is a cultural news editor of the Korea JoongAng Daily.

It was Banksy’s high-tech performance art sending a message to screw with the art market. But Sotheby’s is happy to get “Banksy-ed.”
About a week ago, a painting by anonymous street artist Banksy was sold at Sotheby’s for 1.04 million pounds ($1.38 million) before the canvas was automatically shredded. The next day, Banksy posted a video on Instagram and revealed that he had hidden a shredder inside the frame a few years ago.

The media presume that Banksy was at the auction with other bidders and used a remote control to start the shredder. While there were suspicions that Sotheby’s was involved in the plot, it is very unlikely.

Modern arts circles had mixed reactions. As spectacle is an important element in capitalism, the performance would only make the artwork even more valuable. The half-shredded painting hanging in the frame now has unique artistic value and could carry a new historic significance.

As expected, Sotheby’s announced on Thursday that the buyer who won the bidding at the auction would go through with the purchase. It will be displayed in a special exhibition. If Banksy actually wanted to screw the art market, then he would have destroyed the painting completely, though I don’t doubt his sincerity based on his past actions.

He became famous for his graffiti and murals that are creative and easy to understand, but was uncomfortable when people fought over ownership of his work.

That’s surely why he shredded the painting, though it left the market smiling. The New Yorker’s art editor Andrea Scott criticized the self-destruction of Banksy’s painting, saying it “fails to rise above the level of empty gesture,” and “If the stunt was intended to mock the spectacle of art being reduced to a price tag, the joke might be on Banksy.”

In contrast, British art critic Jonathan Jones wrote on the Guardian, “Yet for once the commodity bit back. Art turned on the hands that feed it,” calling it Banksy’s greatest work of art. Who do you think is right?

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 13-14, Page 35