Recently, I was reminded of what happened to Banksy’s Girl With Balloon in October of 2019. After it was sold at auction for a whopping 1.4 million dollars, Banksy, the anonymous creator of the piece, shredded the painting. But why shred the valued piece?
This is not the first time Banksy rebelled against authority. According to an article from The Wall Street Journal, the artist started his career in the 90s by creating graffiti art in his hometown of Bristol, constantly evading local police. In 2003, in an unused warehouse in London, he released his first collection titled Turf Wars, containing caricatures of famous figures, such as Queen Elizabeth II, copyrighted materials, and cows. These artworks protested authority, war and other political issues. In 2004, he snuck into the Louvre and installed a painting of Mona Lisa with a smiley-face sticker on it. Banksy’s 2006 London exhibition Crude Oils included 164 live rats running free. His Hollywood live show, which attracted 30,000 attendees, had a main attraction of an 8,000 pound elephant that had been dunked with red paint and overlaid with a fleur-de-lis pattern. During this exhibition, showgoers were handed out pamphlets stating: “There’s an elephant in the room… 20 billion people live below the poverty line.” Animal rights activists were incensed and authorities demanded the elephant be washed soon after its unveiling.
But the artist’s latest escapade tops all the rest. On October 16, 2017, after Girl With Balloon, a spray painting with stenciled elements, was auctioned off to a final buyer, an alarm sounded. Immediately, the painting started shredding itself. The shredder malfunctioned, and only destroyed half the painting. After the event, Banksy posted a video on his Instagram page, showing how he installed a shredder into the frame, back when he created it, just in case the painting was ever auctioned.
Let’s return to our question. Why would artists ever want to shred their art? Why would they do it at an auction, where, by this point, the art no longer belongs to them? My personal belief (and that of most) is that it’s just Banksy being Banksy, protesting social norms and injustice. Where better to protest society’s hierarchisation then at an auction for prestigious art? The message of inequality amongst people can get directly to the intended audience of those who are the richest, those who can afford to promote said message. By putting up the video online, Banksy demonstrates that even though, by this point, one assumes that he is “too rich to work”, the artist will always strive to promote awareness of the plight of the “20 billion”.
By now, one may be wondering. What happened to the piece? What did the buyer do? Of course, Sotheby’s, the auctioning company, offered to fully reimburse the piece’s owner. Curiously, the owner opted to keep it. The reason? To own an important piece of art history, the first time an artist destroyed their painting at an auction. As for Banksy? He re-named his famous piece Love is in the Bin.
Love is in the Bin, Banksy