The now-famous reaction of Banksy to Sotheby‘s auction of his Girl with balloon for £1.4m has gone down like... well... a girl with a lead balloon in some artistic circles.
Whether you think that the stunt, where the work shreds itself after being sold, is an appropriate response to the overheated art market or just a crass piece of PR is perhaps neither here or there. The proof of the pudding, in this case, will be in the insurance claim - and whether the work, at the exact time of the hammer going down, was owned by the seller or the purchaser. Either way, the work has been rumoured to now fetch double after it has been shredded, so perhaps Banksy is a financial genius - whether you believe he is an artistic one or not.
Stephen Howes of art agency Thomas Crown has remarked: “This is not about art. This is the art of publicity. The whole stunt is just embarrassing. It is cynical, damaging and highly suspicious – all involved parties should be feeling quite ashamed.
It is cynical because Banksy claims to despise the commercialisation of the art world. But he will have known that this prank will make this piece an even greater part of art world history, and its value, even though currently shredded, will soar.
He claims he is anti-establishment, like Donald Trump does - but like President Trump, Banksy couldn't, in fact, nowadays be more 'establishment' in the art world.
This silly, 'aren't-I-clever?'-style prank damages the credibility of the wider world of art, and is especially damaging for other talented street artists.
The world should spend more time focusing on their immense talent that starts conversations and revolutions, that shifts perceptions and mindsets, that disturbs convention, and less on nonsense pranks to drive prices higher on an already famous painting for a famous artist.
The whole set-up, to my mind, is highly suspicious. Many people had to be involved. Questions have to be asked including, amongst tohers: why was it the last lot in the auction? Did no-one notice the unusually heavy and thick frame for a piece of its size? How were people allowed in through security with bags full of electronic devices? And why was it mounted on a wall, and not on a podium for the moment of sale?
This publicity stunt is demeaning to all involved. They have treated the public and the art world with mocking contempt."
Well, Stephen hasn‘t minced his words, has he? But, certainly in some of his points, he‘s quite right. The work‘s value will indeed soar; questions need to be asked as to why an inspection of the frame didn‘t take place (you would expect Sotheby‘s to conduct one, right?) and the setting implies that it was lined up to be centre stage as the work went through the shredder.
Whether you believe Banksy and Sotheby‘s or not, this is certainly a masterful piece of PR which has received coverage around the world.