Art 7 October 2018 | 14:49

Banksy is shredding his own image

07 October 2018 14:49

I , like many twenty-somethings with more attitude than originality, have a Banksy print on my wall.

It’s probably the most familiar of his stencils: Balloon Girl, which first appeared on a London wall in 2002. It’s often accompanied by the words: ‘There is always hope.’

Of course, we’re buying less into the aesthetic quality of Banksy’s work than the ideals he supposedly represents. Subversion. Rebellion. Anti-establishment politics. Social commentary. But most importantly, hope. Rebellion cannot exist without hope for something better: that’s just anarchy.

Yesterday, a painted version of the original Balloon Girl mural was sold in a Sotheby’s auction for a record-breaking £1.04 million. But, moments later, the painting began to slip out of its frame – through a shredder.

A picture was posted to Banksy’s official Instagram account, with the caption: ‘Going, going, gone…’, as well as a video with a Picasso quote: ‘The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.’

But there is a big difference between mindless destruction and tearing down walls. It is, in fact, the difference between vandalism and street art. It’s a distinction that Banksy was created on. And one, apparently, he has forgotten.

The media flew into a frenzy, calling it the greatest art prank of all time. Art dealers breathlessly speculated as to how he accomplished it, whether the buyer would have to honour the sale – and by how much the painting’s value might skyrocket.

Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s European head of contemporary art, told journalists: ‘We just got Banksy-ed.’

Actually, the only thing that has been ‘Bansky-ed’ is Banksy himself. He’s laid bare his infatuation with his own legend, and his desperation for critical applause and commercial gain. He used to do that to others.

For a man who made his millions attacking the commercialisation of art, pulling a stunt guaranteed to win him more money and attention (and potentially losing others millions of pounds) is insane hypocrisy.

Consider the sheer, breath-taking arrogance of shredding something that valuable – it’s like setting fire to cash in front of the poor. It’s also really self-defeating.

I wonder how many auction staff will now be under scrutiny following this little set piece. Will jobs be lost? Will security increase? Will other artists enact copycat ‘stunts’? Who – literally and figuratively – is going to pay?

His 2010 documentary film Exit Through the Gift Shop took the world’s obsession with his work and turned a microscope back on it, exposing it for all its shallow addiction to celebrity and the hollowness of following – or being – an art phenomenon.

I suspect this time he was trying to do something similar – but what was he hoping for? When the line between parody and mimicry is already so blurred, you risk becoming the very thing that you once fought against.

Four years ago, Banksy used this painting to commemorate the third anniversary of the Syrian civil war, reworking it to depict a young refugee, and sharing it on social media with the hashtag #WithSyria.

In his statement, he referenced the fifteen children who were arrested and tortured in Daraa for painting anti-authoritarian graffiti, which sparked the protests that would eventually become the era-defining civil war.

To subsequently subvert that tribute by destroying its forerunner – whether or not you created it – is nothing but an insult. It doesn’t make you a rebel, a trailblazing iconoclast or an incisive satirist, serving cultural commentary on a bed of wit. It makes you a twat.