It sounds like a really bad Harry Potter parody, but unless you've been living in a hole for the past two weeks you may not have heard about the £1,000,000 rabbit cage lining made by the notorious street artist Banksy. So how do you pull off the greatest theater in the art world? You plan, you plot, you execute, and you wait.
Banksy, Love is in the Bin, 2018 Sotheby's
Unlike Damien Hirst or other top artists, Banksy has never been a fan of the financial circus which encases the art world, in fact he's historically rebelled against it on multiple occasions, or at the very least slapped it in the face a few times. Case in point, let me take you back to 2006, when he launched a print edition called "Morons" in which an auctioneer is selling a beautifully framed white canvas with the words - "I can't believe you morons buy this shit". Does it look familiar? In modern T.V. parlance you may call this foreshadowing.
"Morons" Banksy 2006 L.A. Edition
Was it popular? You bet it was. There are at least five known editions of this print with varying edition sizes; all of which are long sold out. Do you still think he 'rebels' against the financial arm of the art world? Fast forward to 2013 and Banksy sets up a table in New York on the sidewalk, there he sells original canvases for $60 each, at the time they were estimated to be worth $250,000 each. The general theme of this particular stunt was that Galleries were selling his work for a lot of money, yet if he set up a stall in the street would people (not knowing it was him and that they were genuine) still buy his art work. It was a chance to let people buy his art because they loved it, not because it would appreciate in value or give status. It was art (and retail) in its purest form, Man paints picture, Man sells picture, customer loves picture, customer buys picture, customer hangs picture in their home, customer gets years of pleasure from their picture - perfect. Five years later and those street bought canvases are worth between $500,000 and $1,000,000 each, but Banksy has never been about the money (has he?), so is he about the fame then? well, definitely. He keeps his identity secret but that just adds to his Robin Hood like status. While some see it simply as attention seeking theater, it certainly begs the question, would other artists kill for his notoriety and publicity? You bet they would!
New York market stall 2013
Banksy brings the gravitas of a great magician like David Blaine, or Harry Houdini to the masses, extravaganzas with a narrative that make people think about what he's done and what it says about us (society). He produces art with social and political themes, it's always relevant, and it's always on point. If he were a musician he'd be a Sex Pistol.
He's made art cool to sections of society who wouldn't normally have an interest in what went on at Sotheby's on a Friday night. Name another artist currently working who could have achieved this? You could walk around London and ask people who Marina Abrahmovic is and a healthy percentage would most likely say it's Roman's wife. Now ask who Banksy is and you'll get a much higher percentage of correct answers.
So, back to a stunned auction room of art aficionados in Sotheby's London, and over the past two weeks I've seen a lot of discussion as to why it didn't shred the whole sheet. I posted on Twitter the other day that it was my belief that Banksy always intended to shred the whole sheet but something went wrong. This has now proved to be correct as the man himself has released a 'Directors Cut' video showing the whole thing from construction, to rehearsal, and then to the live 'execution'. In rehearsal the piece slides down and out the bottom of the frame with no problem, the alarm can be heard to remain loud and constant. In the live recording of the actual event, the alarm loses volume and clarity in its tones, it sounds like it's double beeping. This could simply be the way the video is edited and cut together, but the only reason the paper would stop halfway would be for one of two reasons. Either it jammed up inside the shredder, which from the bottom of the sheet with no missing pieces and no wrinkling at the top, leads me to believe that the shredder and slide worked fine. The only other thing that could cause an issue would be the power source. The frame was made years before it went to auction, and the batteries were charged and installed at that point. Banksy originally sold it to a collector (complete with handmade frame). He planned to activate it should it ever go up for auction, it was a nuclear missile, ready to launch at the push of a button.
Image from the Dailymail
The frame and shredder were a completely enclosed unit as can be seen by the image above, this includes a battery pack power source. The life of a picture is normally a calm and uneventful one, it hangs on a wall and may get taken down once every few years for a change of venue, or while a room is being redecorated. They usually get lent up against a wall in the same building where they live while these changes are being made. When a piece gets put up for auction, it gets packaged, which can involve the piece being rolled several times in the packaging process, after that comes the courier. I've had some very interesting results from courier companies over the years, they range from perfect arrival with a client, to complete obliteration and return and everything in between (I've even had footprints on the packaging). Any knock, or bump, or shift in weight could have changed something on the mechanism. But the mechanism worked. I believe the batteries failed. Batteries can lose power with dramatic shifts in temperature and I'm sure that this piece will have been subjected to cold at some point after it left Banksy. Cold climate will shorten the life of a battery, but Banksy being smart would have thought of this and installed the longest life batteries he could find. Maybe the piece took longer to come up for sale than he predicted. Maybe it was kept in a chilly storage room. Whatever it was, it affected the batteries, and the shredder suffered power loss halfway through.
Just today Banksy has announced that the stunt didn't go as he had planned. He wanted the whole sheet shredded and dropped onto the floor. I suppose when you plan something like this you must have a worst case scenario and the result of this theater was certainly hard hitting, and above all, it managed to fulfill its purpose in reaction, even if not in destruction.
What's next for Banksy? You'd have better luck predicting the lottery numbers than what his next revelation will be. Love him or hate him, he gets people talking about art, and that is never a bad thing.
Images are not our own and are from Daily Mail, Banksy prints and Art and Object. All opinions are my own and not De Lacey Fine Art's or any other company or body.