The paradox of anti-consumerist art
Carson Hughes, A&E Editor
The anonymous graffiti icon Banksy pulled a stunt intended to shock the art world. Last Friday, a canvas featuring Banksy’s “Girl with Balloon” was sold at an auction at Sotheby’s in London for $1.4 million. As soon as it was purchased, auction-goers looked on in shock to see the canvas being shredded before their eyes.
In a video uploaded on Banksy’s official Instagram, Banksy revealed that he had embedded a shredder in the frame that was set to go off if the canvas was ever sold at an auction. The stunt served as a clear critique of the commercialisation of art.
However, the reaction to this event may not be what Banksy had hoped for. Ironically, this provocative statement condemning commercialisation may have increased the commercial value of “Girl with Balloon.” Joey Syer, co-founder of ArtBroker.com, told “The Evening Standard” that the value of “Girl with Balloon” could possibly double because of the prank.
It wasn’t long after the shredding went viral on the internet that advertising agencies began to appropriate the image of the shredded canvas for profit. Two separate ad agencies for McDonald’s each came up with similar ideas for an ad featuring McDonald’s fries being cut while descending from a picture frame. Ikea Norway also took notice and posted DIY instructions for shredding your own framed picture.
This raises an important question: can an artist ever truly stop their art from being considered a product? It would seem that, despite Banksy’s efforts, he cannot prevent his art from becoming a commodity. While the artist remains anonymous, uses the difficult to commodify medium of graffiti and doesn’t sell photos or prints, it hasn’t stopped art connoisseurs from auctioning off his murals and prints. Nevertheless, while Banksy himself doesn’t treat his art as a product, he has turned himself into a brand. He places his pseudonym on his art, uses a very consistent style, creates exhibitions and prints, speaks to the media either anonymously or through a spokesperson and promotes his art on Instagram and provocative stunts. All of these actions help build his audience, but in doing so, Banksy sacrificed true anonymity and allowed his art to become financially valuable.
This is not a dilemma that is unique to Banksy either. In seeking an audience, artists open up their art and image to be used in ways antithetical to their intent. A classic example is the Dadaists who, in their art, demanded that art not be taken seriously. Nonetheless, Dadaist art, such as Marcel Duchamp’s infamous readymade urinal “The Fountain,” is forever doomed to be taken seriously and taught in art history courses all around the world.
In the end, Banksy’s statement against consumer culture stands as a testament to the resilience of consumerism, much like a Che Guevara t-shirt.
This article first appeared in the Friday, October 12 edition of The Echo.