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School of Fine Art’s Kevin Moore on Banksy Stunt: “It was a Comment on Capitalist Greed”

In this Q&A, professional artist and full-time faculty Kevin Moore sounds off on Banksy’s Sotheby’s stunt that’s got everyone in the art world talking.

The gavel dropped, then the shredder started to whir.

On October 5, 2018, the art world found itself equal parts reeling and amazed. A  fine art auction in Sotheby’s London had been going well underway innocuously enough—until the Girl with the Balloon was put up for bidding.

In this painting, a young girl reaches out for a floating red balloon. Anonymous artist Banksy had originally made this as part of a series of stencil murals drawn as graffiti. There it was, hanging at the back of the auction room quietly to itself when the gavel dropped, sealing, apparently, not only the painting’s value at a staggering $1.4 million, but its fate as well.

Confusion hung thick in the air. Videos now heavily circulated show attendees pointing to the back of the room as the painting started sliding down from inside the frame, and then coming out shredded on the bottom. Meanwhile, the auctioneer could only stay rooted on the podium, mouth agape. Two security staff rushed to take the painting down and outside.

POP! Goes the Balloon

In the immediate aftermath of what has now been confirmed as an elaborate stunt pulled by the artist himself, curiosities remain high and plenty more questions unanswered. Sotheby’s has been vehement in its denial of being in on the prank. This puts them in a very awkward position, no matter which way one looks at it. If this turns out to be true, then this could jeopardize the relationship of auction houses with their attendees.

Should bidders now anticipate their purchased art to be potentially destroyed while in the hands of the auction house? What does it say about their security protocols if they were not involved? How could auction houses prevent similar scenarios from happening in the future, if at all?

The Paper Shreds, the Message Sends

Most certainly, this is not the first time in art history that an artist attacked their own work. It is, however, the only—and most controversial—one in fairly recent memory. It very well deserves the attention earned, but apart from that, it also provides great material for discourse for us mere bystanders.

Full-time faculty and artist Kevin Moore of the School of Fine Art at Academy of Art University is one of those participating in this continuing discourse. Below are a few of his insights on what happened at the fated fine art auction.

Q: What were your initial thoughts of the stunt?

KM: Like most, I thought the stunt was clever, unexpected, and subversive. It was also very humorous.

Q: Some might argue that the value of the piece has actually increased. Would you agree?

KM: Well the price certainly increased, but I can’t tell you if the value did.

Q: Has any other artist done something like this before?

A: I have heard stories about artists taking their work out of frames at museums and collectors houses because they didn’t like them (the frames), Rauschenberg carefully erased a DeKooning drawing after asking the older artist if he could have it, then retitled the piece as his own, and British artist Michael Landy destroyed over 7,000 pieces of art in a conceptual piece. Nothing really compares to the guerrilla tactics of Banksy though, being that he is so high profile.

Q: What message (if any) do you think was Banksy trying to convey?

A: While I can’t speak for him, Banksy thinks his art should be free for everyone, which is why he exhibits it in a public forum outside. Banksy’s graffiti often critiques institutions like art museums and galleries; he also likes to go after authority figures like the police and government officials. The destruction was a comment on the capitalist greed of the art world. Banksy goes to great lengths to make his art available to everyone by illegally painting on buildings and billboards. The idea that the wealthiest 1% can “own” one of his pieces pisses him off, which is why he “destroyed” it.

Meanwhile, Sotheby’s has somehow managed to put a favorable spin on what happened, averting what could have been a disastrous situation for their brand. The “Girl with the Balloon” is now known as “Love in the Bin.” Sotheby’s claim it is “the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction.”

According to Banksy, the stunt did not go perfectly as planned. Only half was shredded at the auction when the painting was supposed to be completely destroyed.

The European bidder who won the piece from the auction will still push through with the sale, according to the reports as of this writing.