It is hard to think of many artists where the simple mention of their name is enough to prompt the question: “What has he done now?” Banksy is so much more than a graffiti artist and rebel – he has the ability to provoke, amuse, captivate and make fun. He succeeds in doing all of these things while protecting his anonymity and avoiding the mainstream art market. This only adds to his mystique and creates extra resonance and impact around those moments when he chooses to break cover and make an artistic statement. His work has the capacity both to raise our spirits and to confront our perceptions of how we live now.
This outsider approach turned into one of the most dramatic moments in saleroom history when an anonymous hand (Was it Banksy himself?) clicked on a tiny remote control to activate a shredding device hidden within the foot of the frame of his “Girl with Balloon” which was up for auction. His timing was exceptional and came just after the hammer fell at $1.12 million at Sotheby’s, London in October 2018. Amid gasps and frantic filming from within the packed auction room, the picture appeared to self-destruct and shred itself leaving only around a third of the original image intact.
The events at Sotheby’s provided such a sharp contrast to the usual self-congratulatory auctions where yet another trophy Old Master or Impressionist painting changes hands. It dominated the news agenda across all media prompting conspiracy theories and suggestions that this was all only a stunt.
Banksy actively guards his reputation. His authentication board “Pest Control” made it clear that there was a plan although it hadn’t quite work out exactly as he had anticipated. It seems that Banksy had aimed for the whole work to transform into hanging fragments claiming that “In rehearsals it worked every time”. However, what we’re left with now is a shredded image which still retains its definable form. The “Girl with Balloon” was already iconic enough to withstand the artist’s attempted destruction; the balloon is now strangely confined within the frame while the rest of the image has the freedom to waft around.
Now renamed “Love is in the Bin”, the re-imagined painting reappears for the first time in a public exhibition at the Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden, Germany. There was a lot of competition to secure the opportunity to display the work but this looks like the right place given the Museum’s ongoing commitment to challenge and engage. Before displaying the image, the shredder within the frame was “made safe” so the risk has gone of any further whirring from its destructive metal blades.
“Love is in the Bin” is on view in Baden-Baden until March 3rd, 2019. With a discussion forum set to take place as part of the exhibition, this is a chance to assess the importance of Banksy as a powerful agent provocateur of the art world. In collaboration with the owner of the art work, the Frieder Burda decided to make the show accessible for everyone , free of charge. Instead visitors can donate on site, the funds will be donated to local education programs for refugees.
After this show, the artwork will in Germany and be permanently loaned to the “Staatsgalerie Stuttgart”.
Banksy. A name to raise more than eyebrows!
Photo credits: Sotheby’s, Museum Frieder Burda, Banksy, Marie-Helene König