What Banksy’s Shredded Painting Means for Art

If you use social media at all or are remotely keyed into the art world, then you probably heard about the stunt that Banksy pulled at a Sotheby’s auction.

I’ll get more into the stunt itself in a second, however, what Banksy pulled – much like his body of work itself – speaks volumes about how he feels about the art world and potentially about what is wrong with the art world.

So let’s get into it, what does Banksy’s shredded painting mean and more specifically what does it mean for the art community?

What happened

Banksy is one of the most prolific street artists of our time. He’s already made a name for himself in such a way where he’s easily up there amongst the greats like Basquiat and Haring.

The image of the girl with the red balloon first popped up in his street art in London. Several versions of this piece of work had begun to pop up over the years – once in support of Syria and again in support of the more liberal parties during an election in Britain. Nonetheless, Banksy’s girl with the red heart-shaped red balloon became iconic.

At auction, an authenticated girl with the red heart balloon showed up. It was an authenticated painting on canvas in the artist’s signature guilded gold frame (in previous shows and pranks he’s pulled on museums, Banksy has put his work in gaudy gold frames). It was put up to auction by an anonymous seller and bought by an anonymous owner.

As soon as the auctioneer pounded his gavel – signifying the end of the auction – a beeping emitted from the painting and the panting began to shred through the frame. It did, however, stop halfway through. But all the onlookers could do was watch in extreme horror – or in my case delight – as the painting shredded through Banksy’s tricky frame.

What does that mean for the piece

The piece went on to be sold for the price it was originally sold for at auction (around 1.4 Million USD); however, it’s argued that if this painting was to go back up for auction that it would be worth double what it sold for originally.

This piece wasn’t ruined. It was transformed during a cheeky performance art piece into another piece of work, entitled “Love is in The Bin”. In a lot of ways, the buyer lucked out.

What does that mean for art? For Banksy?

The art world loves to be criticized. In a lot of ways this performance piece – this destruction of a piece – is another instance of Banksy’s institutional critique.

Banksy has always been critical of the art world. The gold frame is one of his devices through which he critiques art. He’s put up a painting before in a gold frame that read “Never underestimate the power of a big gold frame” and “I can’t believe people buy this shit.” But this time the gold frame wasn’t a tool of the art world, it was Banksy’s tool.

It’s been argued that Banksy could have easily been the seller as they were anonymous and because he gained a lot of publicity around the act which he benefited from. But either way, I say, “well played.”