If you consider that your last headline is a great work of performance in absence, a joke with the middle finger in the art world, a brilliant publicity or all of the above, it can not be denied that Banksy is having the most fun of any artist, maybe in history. We have examined his identity, almost certainly half of the famous musical act Massive Attack, in a previous column, and he is known for his graffiti art, his hands-on games with his tongue on his cheek (consider his documentary titled "Exit Through the Gift Shop "), and its recent large-scale installation," Dismaland ", a conceptual, horrific, functional work, the worst of all times, unique in its scale and interactive three-dimensional satire. His latest version is extraordinary, but it is also a completely brilliant way to inflate the value of his own art quickly and artificially, although any psychologist who studies it will be quick to say that he is in this not for the money but for the laughter.
For anyone who missed it, at a recent Sotheby & # 39; s auction, they sold a spray painting by Banksy titled "Girl with Balloon" for a total of $ 1.4 million. As soon as the hammer fell, an alarm sounded inside the golden frame of the painting and began to fall apart, falling slowly through a shredder that was hidden within the frame of the print that was displayed on the wall in the auction room. The newly purchased paint was cut into dozens of vertical stripes as it floated to the ground.
The first thought was that this destroyed an object that had just been bought by seven figures. What had the buyer acquired and would he be forced to pay for it? It was designed to self-destruct and, of course, it was the artist who fixed it (he sent the first Instagram that happened). Was he making fun of the market for his own work? On the one hand, yes, but on the other hand, I was doing the buyer a great favor. The works of art that are subject to controversy, especially those stolen or attacked, see a strong increase in their value, thanks to the notoriety and the means that emerge from such misadventures. People who are not otherwise interested in art in general, or this particular artist, will suddenly know, which will attract the interest of potential buyers who otherwise would not have entered the contest, and will highlight this work in particular as of sufficient interest to call the attention of criminals or criminals and, subsequently, the media. Historically, there is a direct correlation between media reports about the high values by which art is sold at auction and the criminals who attempt to attack those same works or works by the same artist. The media feed both criminal and popular interest.
Banksy knows this very well, so it is not surprising that several talking heads of the art trade, interviewed after this event, said that the destruction of the work made its value at least doubled. But Banksy was doing something that has not yet been discussed, and that is transforming a spray paint, which Banksy does by simply spraying through a template, and for which there are multiple versions of a painting (effectively making it more like an impression) . than a unique painting in the traditional sense), in a unique work.
By definition, the works that appear as multiples in a series have less value than the only ones, because they are less rare: there is an X number of them, instead of just one. This makes them more affordable, which can spread notoriety, as was the case of Albrecht Durer who, during the Renaissance, focused on engraving, the trademark of his monogram, and used the portability and affordability of prints to become the most famous artist in Europe at any given time. when Rafael, Leonardo, Titian and Michelangelo competed for that title. Banksy's popularity for the general public is due to his ingenious graffiti art and to the game with his identity, but it is a favorite of middle-level collectors, precisely because of its affordability. People of moderate wealth who want to buy modern art can buy a Banksy (their paintings, like this one, are usually sold in the middle of the six figures, and their prints are sold by the five low figures, which is a very reasonable amount of money , in terms of high-end art). And so, making prints and multiple spray paintings allows a democratization and a greater number of potential collectors.
But Banksy did something brilliant with his crusher clamp. He transformed an aerosol paint, which is produced easily and economically with a simple template and a can of spray paint, which essentially costs him nothing in terms of time and raw material, in a unique job. He did it through a performance work. He was in the audience at the auction house and designed the action, so while he did not make his presence to those present in the room, he was the actor in his own dramatic moment. Performance art is only enjoyed by those physically there to see it. But it can leave traces, such as photographs and videos and stories written or spoken by eyewitnesses. You can also leave relics that collectors love to hang. In this case, the "relic", the painting in question, was purchased seconds before the presentation began. Therefore, the value of the work is increased in three different ways: what was once only one of a series of spray paintings became a unique work, the only one in strips. The spray paint also became the main relic of a unique performance. And it was effectively "attacked", although the attack was planned and carried out by the artist himself, which makes him the target of the type of activity (generally criminal) that the media loves to report.
Presumably, the owner of this newly crushed and newly purchased painting took possession of the frame of the crusher and the dozens of long vertical cuts that now depict the corpse of the work and will bring them together in a unique work of one of the most popular artists of the world. Its resale value, prestige and cache are now tremendous and much greater than painting alone. It seems likely that Sotheby's was involved, since this was the last batch in the auction (it would have disturbed the procedures in an unpleasant way if it had not been the last batch sold), and I would say that they were good for them to have a sense . of humor, too often lacking in the art trade.
What at first seemed to be a mocking joke, and then what also seemed to be a very smart publicity stunt, and then seemed to be a disaster for the buyer, is actually a clever way to immediately transform a painting that is probably less than $ 25 to produce and a few hundred to frame, and that was sold for $ 1.4 million, in a work that is now worth many times thanks to a very unique destructive intervention.