On the day his painting was destroyed, the street artist Banksy’s name rose in the popular keyword search charts in many web portals. Headlines made some people wonder why this keyword was growing so popular, as many had never heard of Banksy. Although he was famous in the art world, his work was not really well-known to the general Korean public. Nonetheless, the shredding of a painting drew attention from all over the world, this time including Korea.
Banksy’s life of street art started in the 1990s when he was in his hometown of Bristol, United Kingdom (UK). His fame then spread out into the rest of the world after exhibiting his artworks in foreign countries such as the United States (U.S.), Canada, and France. He is once again in the spotlight with the destruction of his own painting, “Girl With Balloon.” Although the incident is no doubt astounding, one should ask: What does this incident mean? Why did it pull so much attention from the media?
▲ Girl With Balloon. PROVIDED BY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Banksy is a British artist who specializes in street art. Although he is relatively well-known for his artworks in the art world, his identity remains a mystery. There have been speculations, and some people have been very confident about already knowing who he is. However, there still has been no official confirmation as to his identity.1
On October 5, one of Banksy’s most famous paintings, “Girl With Balloon”2 was put on auction at Sotheby’s in London. As soon as the painting was officially sold for 1.37 million dollars, the bottom part of the painting went down through the shredder. It was later revealed that this incident had been orchestrated by Banksy himself. Later, he revealed that the painting was supposed to have self-destructed completely. To demonstrate this he released a video to the press that showed him shredding a painting completely.
Meaning Under the Surface
The predominant interpretation of the stunt that Banksy pulled off is that it was part of a message that he was trying to send. Banksy, like many modern artists, did not believe that artworks were meant to be priced and sold. “By installing a shredder and destroying the artwork, he ridiculed the capitalism of the art world,” stated Curator Jung Jong Ku of Bongssan Cultural Center. In doing so, he showed that he was not passively accommodating to reality. He was also able to deliver his original beliefs to the public in a witty way through the destruction. The rise in the value of the painting, however, was a paradox that was unintended on his part.
There are still others who believe that Banksy’s plan was much more elaborate and had several more factors involved. It is true that Banksy was making fun of the art world, but his derision was demonstrated not just in the destruction. The whole process, up to the paradox was all part of his scheme to ridicule the art world.
“Banksy knew that should the painting be only partly destroyed, it would become someone’s property once more, and in the future, it would become more expensive than any of Banksy’s other artworks,” explained Peik Ki-young, a Director of Curatorial Bureau at the Seoul Museum of Art. Reality really did carry itself out as Banksy expected; the buyer bought the destroyed painting at the promised price, and its value skyrocketed thanks to the incident. Banksy set out to mock these sorts of ridiculous reactions from the art world—it seems that he has succeeded.
The incident received a lot of media coverage, but it was not as natural a phenomenon as everyone assumed. The situation itself was all mapped out beforehand by Banksy, and he planned the moment the press would get involved. Peik claimed that one of the main motives that Banksy had was to deceive and ridicule the public and the press by manipulating them. Banksy is an artist who shocked the public by leaving behind street paintings with his own political messages. He gained fame because the media followed his artworks and reported on his paintings when they showed up. From this experience, Banksy knew exactly how the press functioned, and how to influence them, and he used the perceived knowledge to maneuver the situation as he wanted it.
After the painting was partly shredded, Banksy received accusations that he intentionally did not destroy it completely. To counter those claims, he got the media involved by sending them a video of him rehearsing the destruction. The video, which went viral due to the involvement of the press, claimed that Banksy’s original goal was total destruction. “Banksy enjoys having these kinds of games with the media and the public. He thinks that by doing this, he will be able to deceive and ridicule them to the fullest,” said Peik. Thus, the incident received this much media attention precisely because it was part of Banksy’s intentions.
This interpretation of Banksy’s destruction of the “Girl With Balloon” seems to portray him in a rather ambiguous light. Whether he is the righteous party or the villainous party is very unclear. This is in stark contrast to his predominant image, which is an upright artist who passionately protests capitalism in the art world. “However, this is what I believe being a modern artist is truly about,” concluded Peik. “It is not about keeping to morality. It is about making something that makes people think, or creating something with a core that shocks everyone.” Banksy, it seems, has met these criteria.
1. Banksy is referred to as a “he” in this article because it is agreed upon that Banksy is a male.
2. The name of the painting differs with every report. This name will be used within this article.