Don’t you love a good paradox? In case you haven’t heard the story, a famous Banksy piece got put up for auction, and, after being sold for over £1M… shredded itself.
The stunt was clearly a comment on Banksy’s opinion of the value of his artwork, and a dig at the kind of muppets who would pay over a million pounds for such a thing. But by making that statement, it becomes a piece of art in its own right, and quite likely worth more than the original painting.
There’s no way Banksy didn’t know that. In a stroke of pure genius, he has knowingly increased the value of an artwork by devaluing it. That’s very much his style. He plays with the idea of worth; giving worth to things that people don’t value, and dismissing things that are valued highly. The Banksy vs. Bristol Museum exhibition featured an original Damien Hirst painting, which he’d gone over with a stencil of a rat in the process of painting out the original. A vast improvement, I’d say.
Then there was the water tank in California. The story goes that is was the abode of a homeless man, until Banksy came along and stencilled “This looks a bit like an elephant” on it. Suddenly, that abandoned water tank that had been an eyesore for years was removed for sale, the homeless man evicted. Apparently when Banksy heard about this, he gave the man enough money to get an apartment for a year.
I have no idea if this is true. But it’s the kind of story we’d like to believe. Banksy’s persona is that of a down-to-earth, no-nonsense type who sticks up for the underdog, and sticks up his fingers to the establishment. And it’s glorious. I do like Banksy’s work. But we have to remember that what we get to see is the myth, not the man. Banksy’s image is an artwork in its own right.