Last Friday the art world went ablaze post hoc Sotheby’s auction in London. At first, it seemed that the sensation of the day would be the sale of Jenny Saville’s self-portrait – sold for £9,537,250 million ($12.4 million), which set a new auction record for an artwork by a living female artist (prior record of this kind was held by Yayaoi Kusama’s, whose White No 28(1960) was sold at Christie’s New York for $7.1 million). As it turned out, the auction attendees – along with the rest of the art world – were in for an even greater surprise when at the end of the auction Banksy’s painting Girl with Balloon began to self-destruct just seconds after being sold for £1.4 million (just under $1.9 million).
The next day a video appeared on Banksy’s Instagram page. It began with the caption: “A few years ago I secretly built a shredder into a painting” and showed a hooded figure placing a spiky contraption under the backing of a picture. This was followed by another caption “in case it was ever put up for auction” and footage of the closing of the auction.
The most interesting part of Banksy’s latest – call it audacious or cynical – is the caption under the video that said: ”The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.” These words, which the author of the post misattributed to Picasso, are actually a quote from The Reaction in Germany, a book by Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. Putting aside the issue of misattribution – which may or may not be intentional – the choice of ascribing the provenance to the great artist is perplexing in an iconoclastic gesture. Has then the two-part spectacle failed since it came from a decidedly outsider artist who is concomitantly seeking institutional acceptance?
It remains to be seen whether or not Banksy’s Girl with Balloon will be shortlisted for the next year Turner Prize. For those who would like to bet on it – the image of England’s most beloved painting is available at Target at $63.54 a print (shredder not included). And while Banksy’s show certainly helped create a thrilling night at the Sotheby’s, we can’t help but feel slightly disappointed that the spotlight was taken away from issues surrounding the record-breaking sale of Jenny Saville’s Propped.