TThe moment that I love the most in the video that Banksy has published of his last art trick is when a man with glasses with the well-taken care of air of a professional of the art world puts his hand to his forehead with apparent disbelief before what is watching: a million quid is being crushed. He seems genuinely scared that the revolution has reached Mayfair and that activists are about to assault Sotheby's, where Banksy's framed image, Girl With Balloon, mechanically self-destructed, shortly after passing through the hammer by a little over 1 million pounds.
If this moment of artistic terrorism last Friday had really been, as at least one member of the audience seemed to think, the signal for all the collectors and merchants gathered in another night of great sales in the art industry to be dragged out of the Auctioneer and shot, there would be VIP blood in the sewers of New Bond Street. For Banksy he put his artwork through the crusher at the climax of the busiest week in the London art market, when international collectors travel to the Frieze art fair and its satellite parties, private views and shopping. "In the spirit of Frieze's week, the October contemporary art auction is led by a selection of outstanding works," he enthused Sotheby & # 39; s about its sale. Apparently, I had no idea that one of these modern treasures was caught in explosions.
However, the next morning, self-proclaimed market insiders claimed to be the first to get Banksy's joke. (Others say that the trick is a hoax). One, Joey Syer, an online art broker, offered a bullish "view" to the media: "The result of the auction will only boost [Banksy’s prices] In addition, and given the attention of the media that this trick has received, the lucky buyer will see a great return in the [£1.042m] they paid last night "This is now part of art history in its shattered state and we estimate that Banksy has added at least 50% to its value, possibly as high as a value of more than 2 million pounds." Although Syer does not offer proof of this claim, he got involved in the media. After all, such cynical savoir-faire sounds plausible if you have followed the freakonomics of art. Of course, Banksy doubled the value of Girl With Balloon by destroying it. The art market always wins.
I am sorry I disagree. I'm not exactly Banksy's biggest fan. I walked through his anti-thematic park Dismaland with a frown, not because he was part of the performance, like those who received him with sadness and cranky, but because he found it really depressing. But the rush to know privileged information to say that Banksy's art is more valuable now is irrelevant. Yes, rebellion is always being claimed. Yes, everyone knows that the dice are loaded, everyone knows that the good guys lost, as Leonard Cohen observed. But let's go For once, an artist has really pissed off the whole system that reduces art to nothing more than a commodity. What happened at Sotheby's is Banksy's best work. He has said something that needed to be said: art is being strangled by money. The market turns the imagination into an investment and protests in the decoration of the house of some oligarch. The only real rebellion that remains is that the works of art are destroyed the moment they are sold.
The work of art Milly Quid by Banksy, which destroys itself, as perhaps we should call this masterpiece of radical performance, belongs to a tradition of destruction in art that is only 100 years old. In 1917, a porcelain urinal, entitled Fuente and with the signature "R Mutt" in crudely painted black paint, was presented to an art exhibition in New York. Marcel Duchamp, the man behind the trick, is often seen as a dry and ironic wit whose "readymades" are dissected reverently as philosophical enigmas, but that does an injustice to anger and contempt in his gesture. Calling a pissoir fountain was urinating in high culture, and that could not be a neutral gesture in 1917. Duchamp was part of the given movement. This primarily reductive and deliberately reducing movement, whose name imitates baby talk, was initiated by German pacifists in exile in Switzerland in 1916 and spread to Berlin, Paris and more cities at the end of the First World War.
The Dadaists hated the European culture of art and the self-conscious sensitivity that could kill their youth by crossing them with the giant human crusher that was the western front. All sides in the First World War claimed to be defending "civilization". The given generation spat at that civilization. In her 1919 work LHOOQ (which sounds like French for "she has a hot ass"), Duchamp drew a mustache and a small knob on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. He also said that he wanted to "use a Rembrandt as an ironing board".
The problem with the anti-art tradition that began with the violence of dada against the very idea of culture is that, during the last 100 years, more or less, it has been assimilated into the mainstream of modern art. The daring and astute smart alecs who claim that all Banksy has done is add value to his work are the latest in a long list of people from the art world who have turned dissent into art history. As an older man in the 60s, Duchamp was embraced by the establishment. Replicas of its lost source were made. There is one in Tate Modern today.
The young British artists saw the commercial potential of Duchamp's ideas. You can put a shark in a tank and call it art, then turn it into money. The result is what the Banksy video shows about the crowd at Sotheby's: an international community of wealthy people who spend their money on art that has an aura of Dadaist peril. In addition to Banksy's Girl with a Balloon, the auction included a white canvas cut by Lucio Fontana and a painting by Piero Manzoni, whose most notorious masterpiece is a can called Merda d'Artista (The artist's shit).
Looking at these lots, the game that is being played in the auction is not so subtle. On the one hand, collectors were offered the thrill of anti-art. On the other hand, beautiful paintings were sold to hang at home. Beauty with only a smell of the urinal, the merda of the artist, the street. The girl with Banksy's balloon seemed to fit perfectly with this superficial aesthetic of Janus's face. He is a famous artist for working in the street, painting, with the help of templates, images of policemen kissing, shameless rats and anarchists who throw flowers on the walls around the world. However, Sotheby's was selling a finely framed version of one of his most famous graffiti images, literally domesticating his art into a luxury painting, a modern Mona Lisa.
Maybe they should have wondered why an artist known for rebellion would create something so elegant. But nobody supposed that Banksy had been studying modern art history. To hide inside his painting was a device inspired by one of the most subversive and stubbornly subversive branches of the given tradition. British artist Gustav Metzger invented self-destructive art in the early 1960s, just as Duchamp was assimilated as brilliant pop. In his most spectacular demonstration of the idea, he "painted" a sheet of white nylon with acid in front of an audience in the South Bank of London. The act of making this work of art also destroyed it.
Metzger had reasons to be angry. As a Jewish child in Nuremberg in the 1930s, he witnessed some of the Nazi's largest rallies. He was saved by the Kinderstransport, but he lost his family in the holocaust. For him, self-destructive art was part of a permanent refusal to be part of the capitalist system. One of his most enthusiastic disciples was a young art student who met him at the Hornsey School of Art and became a rock star. Pete Townshend saw his usual shredding of guitars at Who's concerts as self-destructive art.
Self-destruction is one of the most difficult acts to assimilate for the world of commercial art. When Michael Landy destroyed everything he possessed as a work of art, it was a conscious farewell to the basic art of the Hirst generation to which he belongs. When the K Foundation burned a million pounds, its gesture was so far from the spirit of conventional art that it was hardly recognized as art, rather as a stupid waste of money.
When the auctioneer's hammer went down in Sotheby and a "modern masterpiece" began to eat, the stage was ready. Here was the moment of truth of the art world, however theatrical and multifaceted it may be. Of course, this revolt will be assimilated. Of course, the market will smile and the tellers will continue ringing. However, for once, the merchandise bit again. Art lit the hands that feed it.
In principle, all artists should do the same until the market is reduced to the size and stop defining the art of our time. Most will not, of course, for good reasons, such as the need to make a living. However, Banksy has let in a little light in a very claustrophobic room and has shown that he is the most important artist at the moment.