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An artwork by Banksy shredded itself after selling for $1.3M at Sotheby’s (artsy.net)
621 points by okket on Oct 6, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 290 comments

Part of me feels like this stunt is clever because the nature of the performance improves the value of the work. So it's self-destructive in the technical sense of the term but it was designed in such a way to essentially transform the piece. While shocking in the moment, as the pictures of the scene show, the work has three separate qualities: the original significance of the piece, the new meaning it attains after partial shredding, and its role in the historical documentation of the scene that played out. A bunch of moneyed folk at an auction recoiling in horror - either because of the money they initially thought was wasted, or more charitably because they genuinely cared about the work. What would your own assumption there tell you?

However, in my mind I also imagined something entirely different. What would it say for a similar work of art to self destruct at a very glacial pace, and the only way to prevent degradation was to pay attention to it? What would it say about the nature of art and wealth if the owner did not notice the piece had destroyed itself until it was too late, presumably because they bought it and left it in storage or on a wall they never looked at? This is what plenty of art will already do over the course of centuries, without maintenance or restoration, so I'm thinking about something more accelerated and deliberate.

And on an extra level, I have started to wonder how such a piece could be represented through programming. The website that rots, pixel by pixel, when it isn't viewed; or the application that subtly corrupts itself over time.

> And on an extra level, I have started to wonder how such a piece could be represented through programming. The website that rots, pixel by pixel, when it isn't viewed; or the application that subtly corrupts itself over time.

I suppose that's also already true today. Unmaintained software rots; the OS moves on and the software no longer runs. DRMed software has its servers shut down. Online games get shut down. Etc. The most loved software typically has enough interested hackers to keep it alive; releasing bug fixes decades later, defeating DRM, emulating server software to keep old online games alive, etc. But if no one cared about a piece of software, it won't be long before it "rots" and becomes unrunnable in the future.

Somewhat related, your comment reminded me about a piece of online performance art. It was a website with an animation of a dying astronaut, a countdown, and a clickable button. If the button wasn't clicked within a certain amount of time, to reset the countdown, the astronaut would die. Forever. As long as someone, somewhere, on the internet clicked that button, the astronaut would keep on living.

Things were touch and go when the website first went online. Not a lot of visitors meant not a lot of people to click the button and keep him alive. But it went viral, and his life was nearly assured.

I believe in the end a server glitch or something ruined it; the countdown ran out and the astronaut died. And that was it. There was no reset after that. For a brief flicker in time that virtual life burned dimly enough to light up the internet. Now he's merely a buried artifact of internet history.

The transience of the act is what gave it value. If something never dies, if it can never be lost, what value does it hold?

At the end of the film Blade Runner, the "Tears in Rain" speech. I always felt like he was saying he finally found value in his life. Androids, living only for a brief few years, didn't find much value in their lives. But he realized he had seen and done things that nobody else in the world had. And when he dies, those things will be lost forever, like tears in the rain. It seems pointless. But that loss is what gives value to his life. He isn't just another android. He's something priceless.

This is a good point and I notice that we respond to it by building remakes, remasters, and we do keep things running that were never really designed to last so long. I don't think many of us perceive that as decay or rot, or self-destruction, it's just that some of us are so passionate about those games or those works that we put a lot of effort into keeping them alive through emulation or hacking or reverse engineering. It's maintenance work and we'd describe the software as legacy.

It would all be completely lost without those people though, so of course it is the act of digital works decomposing naturally. Those of us who enjoy those efforts probably won't ever perceive it that way: those old games and programs and websites we love are still as alive as ever.


One issue: the overlay parts are positioned using onload JS, and do not reposition on resize.

After playing an hour+ of browser emulated Mario Kart 64, and then reading this, it seems that worthwhile art (or software) will be kept alive until it languishes in the cultures mind.

Perhaps this is the statement of the piece, albeit on a shorter timescale. When does a piece of code execute for the last time? When does a piece of art last get appreciated?

> What would it say for a similar work of art to self destruct at a very glacial pace, and the only way to prevent degradation was to pay attention to it?

That's our society. Or Earth. In either case no one cares.

Interesting how the most remarkable and deep comments come from such “what if” comments about the most hypothetical and abstract subjects. It reminds me of the internet when I first met it.

Oh and by the way, this very same comment space is itself a product, an effect, a derivative work of Banksy’s art.

You might be interested in the work of the artist Eva Hesse. She experimented with materials like latex and fiberglass to create sculptures that were almost organic, with skeletons and skin. These materials are decomposing quickly, and while I couldn't find a source for this online, I believe she was intentionally using industrial processes that led to more rapid chemical breakdown. So her creations are (not so) slowly dying, and some are already unable to be displayed publicly, only 60 years after they were made. Perhaps some are only still around because museum curators are "paying attention." But if they can't be put on display anyway, what's the point of the life-support? And is it against Hesse's artistic intentions?

See http://blog.sevenponds.com/soulful-expressions/falling-into-...

I’m a big fan of Eva Hesse, but have never heard that she intentionally used the materials she did because of their limited shelf life, cutting short her works’ lifespan like her own.

It’s an interesting idea, however the cynic in me couldn’t help but notice that the domain you link to is for an end of life counseling organization. I wonder if their line of work makes them give this aspect of her work more significance than she would’ve during her lifetime.

Not exactly what you're getting at but the artist Thijs Rijkers did a series of pieces similar to this, called Suicide Machines: https://vimeo.com/56871178

“The website that rots, pixel by pixel, when it isn't viewed; or the application that subtly corrupts itself over time.”

Just publish in a slightly obscure file format on physical media, and this is taken care of. Nobody will be able to access your art work in 20-40 years.

It'll make it eventually unusable, yeah, but that's not a public spectacle anymore. It feels more along the lines of shoving a painting into a cardboard box in a damp basement where nobody goes and letting it rot.

You could make a public spectacle of incompatible, limited hardware or a file format. It could even raise awareness of bit rot among consumers. I’ve been surprised by the fragility and ephemerality of possessions and creations in the digital age.

Do note that the purchaser was not present at the time. They were bidding over the phone through an employee of the auction house. So no one recoiled over the money they themselves had wasted.

I think this one is quite interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q-BH-tvxEg

A motor connected to a series of reduction gears, with the last part of the chain encased in concrete.

Check out the DisintegrationLoops by William Basinski

Such a great concept. I discovered the artist just yesterday, imagine my surprise when someone mentioning him on HN!

This is such an amazing piece. I second this and am very surprised to see it pop up on HN. Way cool! :)

This is kind of what Fomo3D was.

This is a well orchestrated publicity stunt. A reputed auction house like Sotheby's would never put an item up before thoroughly checking and documenting it.

Post this stunt, the artwork will now be valued much higher than what it sold for at this auction. Banksy has been known for such ingenious and clever marketing stunts.

Please tell me which other ingenious and clever marketing stunts Banksy, the anti-capitalist artist who refuses to allow his work or even prints (with rare exceptions) to be sold is known for?

I like the art booth set up outside the MET museum in NYC


For someone who will create some some street art and literally have the owners remove the wall to sell it..


> Banksy, the anti-capitalist artist

(Alleged) anti-capitalism and marketing are not mutually exclusive.

Banksy has an eye for publicity, from selling his art for $60 on New York’s streets [1] to parading a painted packiderm [2]. Whether it’s to sell his art (which it does), sell his name (which it also does) or sell his ideas (which it does, too) is orthogonal to it being clever and effective marketing.

[1] https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/artanddesig...

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/5355638.stm

Yes, in this case Banksy is clearly trying sell his name and idea, I can't dispute that. But the comment I replied to implied it was done in partnership with Sothebys in order to increase the value of his art and therefore make more money from it. At least, that is how I read it. That kind of 'marketing stunt' is one that just doesn't fit into his MO which makes it hard to believe.

It was the very last peice sold. If it had been sold at the beginning or middle, odds are the whole auction shuts down, at best the tone changes. This was calculated.

Someone had to put in new batteries in it and they took it off the wall right away to show that there was no cord. It is possible the auctioneer himself was not in on it but others had to be.


Moco museum in Amsterdam sells in its giftshop Banksy artworks on pretty much everything, from posters to mugs.

Banksy is NOT [...] represented by Steve Lazarides or any other commercial gallery.


So how is Moco able to sell merchandise? Infringement?

For an "anti-capitalist", he sure has a lot of books for sale on Amazon.

This is my least favorite criticism ever.

“Like, hey man, if you’re complaining that the system is totally unfair and forces most people powerlessly into a narrow set of compromised choices, why are you making one of those choices?”

When I worked with Tom Morello he used to get it all the time too. It’s a bogus argument. There’s no requirement that one leave the system they are in prior to expressing fundamental doubts about that system.

Tom Morello has been happy to use his fame and status to try and get his way with things.


the force in this case being banksy’s (or morello’s) desire to partake of the benefits of capitalism?

forsooth, the yeoman protests the carucage, and yet uses his plough of oak from the king's very forest!

Verily sire.

I could often be described as an “anti-capitalist”, in the sense that I advocate for newer systems of organization of labor and productive resources, but I recognize that I do not live in a post-capitalist society. I still need to participate in the capitalist world to participate in society and acquire the resources I need to survive and thrive. An anti-capitalist will often need to participate in capitalism. They can still work to build an alternative system even as they participate in this one. The process of promoting or designing a new system could benefit greatly from some capitalist wealth to reach others who may want to exit.

He makes things, by himself, and sells them.

And even then he puts the vast bulk of that labor in the public sphere from which he, since he necessarily denies making them, owns no IP.

How can this behavior possibly be criticized as exploitive?

Just as dumb as the anarchist breaking windows at Niketown in Seattle while wearing Nike shoes.


Being against capitalism doesn't mean total aversion to commerce or the capital it generates., but opposition to market forces being the dominant ideology. Even hard core communists I know don't mind if someone is a bit rich (eg worth a few million), but are opposed to the vast concentrations of capital in limited liability firms, and want industrial infrastructure to be publicly owned.

"Capitalism is dead" t-shirts are on sale now

Capitalism was never alive. We live in a state capitalist system. A free market capitalism is a fiction, and where it was almost a reality ( Somalia ), it never ended well.

And Che Guevara t-shirts are on clearance.

Well I guess they must be feeling very charitable because they allowed the value to skyrocket after bidding ended.

As a piece of performance art, the stunt wouldn't have as much impact if it was shredded during the auction. The idea of establishing a classical 'value' of an object by process of auction only for that object to be classically devalued moments later allows you to explore what gave that thing its value in the first place and what takes away its value after its 'destruction'. Without having a clear moment of delineation between these two states, you don't have a clear way to discuss and understand this question.

> Banksy’s iconic Girl With Balloon (2006) attracted feverish bidding in the room and on the phones, racing past its high estimate of £300,000 to hammer at £860,000, or just over £1 million ($1.3 million with fees). As the gavel slammed, a siren rang out through the salesroom and everyone stood stunned as the Banksy canvas slid through the frame that it was contained in and emerged underneath—but shredded.

I'm impressed by whatever engineering went into the power source for that shredder lasting since 2006 while still being remotely triggerable with perfect timing.

The implication is that the frame was a recent addition and that Banksy or an accomplice was in the room to trigger the shredder at the right time

Having thought about it a bit, a shredder is a complicated and unreliable machine for a stunt like this. I reckon there was a roller hidden in the frame with (half) a pre-shredded painting on it. The roller then rolls in the main painting while dispensing the shredded version. Much simpler, and easier to test.

That's why it stuck half way, most likely. Shredders are unreliable but I wouldn't call them complicated. Small ones are expense and it only had to work once.

> The spray painted work of the girl with a red balloon, acquired directly from the artist, came in what the catalogue called “the artist’s frame”—a frame that was oddly thick for such a small work of street art.

I doubt the frame was from 2006. And even if, the batteries in it could be inserted/changed prior the auction.

There are lithium batteries which can last up to 40 years, for example Tadiran.

How long can they power a radio though?

It only need to power it every few minutes for it to works, hell if you consider any interesting auction would be announced at least one month before, you can power it every month with something stronger like 3G to get a more precise day to be active.

Maybe some kind of ultra-low-power accelerometer assembly to only power up the radio for X hours after movement?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_Electric_Bell runs since 1840. This likely needs more power, though, making it harder.

I would think the buyer of this piece might be happy with what happened, though. The shreds still are there, and likely are worth more than the original piece of paper.

There appears to be a light inside. Compare the unshredded top to the bottom in one of the pictures from the front.


It probably used that power source.

The light appears to not come from the inside:


You're right. Still photos can be deceiving...

It looks like the battery ran out, it didn't completely shred.

Or maybe that was intentional so it's still "in one piece" and you can still hang it at the wall? That at least was my first thought.

Yeah definitely, some thought went into this for sure ;-) If destruction was the intention, it would have happened.

You'd almost think this story is too good to be true. But we all know this is real.

Not referring to this specific exhibit but other pieces by a similar artist. Thousands of people can create this kind of paintings for cheap. That it still sells for more than what many people can make in a decade or a career means a stratospheric concentration of wealth in society or a bubble in the commercial art world.

If there is real scarcity because of climate change or other widespread disaster, how much can a piece of this ‘quality’ be sold for? A loaf of bread, or less?

That millions of children still starve but a piece of simplistic art is worth more than the value of food a whole village consumes in a decade is a sorry effect of the financial system we use or the way our society assigns ‘coolness’ score to people and activity.

>Not referring to this specific exhibit but other pieces by a similar artist. Thousands of people can create this kind of paintings for cheap.

Art was never about difficulty of reproduction. Once an artwork has been done any hack with 2-3 years of art school can create a great imitation, and with some more talent, even do a Rembrandt or whatever. There are entire cities in China who live by making copies of famous oil paintings.

>That millions of children still starve but a piece of simplistic art is worth more than the value of food a whole village consumes in a decade is a sorry effect of the financial system we use or the way our society assigns ‘coolness’ score to people and activity.

It's the same when a company buys some BS social app like Instagram (mainly an avenue for vanity and time-wasting) for several billion, which could just be used to save millions of lives.

Society was never about goodness or helping the most (and especially not for helping people elsewhere).

"Art was never about difficulty of reproduction."

While it's true that a skilled forger can effectively copy an old master painting, it's a pretty rare skill to have at a really high level. "Painting factory" copies from China are kitsch and definitely lack nuances that matter in the original.

But the skill of making a facsimile (a copper engraving of a painting for an edition of prints, for example) is something that used to be respected, though, to be fair, respect was pretty in proportion to how much interpretation/discretion the copier needed to bring into play. Converting colour oil painting -> black & white fine engraving is not a mechanical process, whereas turning cruder drawings into woodcuts apparently was considered merely a technical job.

What I'm getting at is the idea that the processes of reproduction are a part of the way art is made and circulated. They aren't something external that comes after the end of the creative act in a way the artist can't control. It's only in a world of immaterial digital media that it feels like art is replicated trivially and endlessly. Uniqueness seemed important when reproduction was costly (and art materials were expensive) and a lot of artworld practices, like editioning, are based on the assumption that the authentic work can't actually be copied, except by the artist. So I don't really agree with your claim.

>While it's true that a skilled forger can effectively copy an old master painting, it's a pretty rare skill to have at a really high level.

Not that rare. It also depends on the artist. More artists that are not pre-19th century masters are fairly easy to replicate, while their work still sells for millions.

>"Painting factory" copies from China are kitsch and definitely lack nuances that matter in the original.

That's just because of the speed involved. If they took their time on a single work, the quality would be much higher. And kitch is an aesthetic term, doesn't refer to the quality of the reproduction as such (a reproduction is kitch by definition, even if perfect).

>What I'm getting at is the idea that the processes of reproduction are a part of the way art is made and circulated.

That's true. That doesn't mean that a perfect replica by a master copier would ever get the same price as a coveted original.

I'm not sure I follow your thinking about kitsch, but's a very contested term.

Master art forgers represent an existential threat to art "connoisseurs", it's like what they do is an exploit aimed precisely at fooling a connoisseur's judgement. For obvious reasons they rarely try to pass off new concepts or compositions, just the superficial styles of painting etc. It's like they have a style-transfer filter but no working model of the source artist's thought processes.

Pastiche (which does often attempt to synthesize whole new works) is usually identifiable and not intended to deceive, but AGI will probably eventually blur that distinction as more and more of the characteristics of an artist's work can be captured in some kind of model.

It's not necessarily true that a derivative work is always worth less than the original, particularly if you include something like appropriation art. Elaine Sturtevant was an interesting example of imitations being taken very seriously:

'In 1964, by memorization only, she began to manually reproduce paintings and objects created by her contemporaries with results that can immediately be identified with an original, at a point that turned the concept of originality on its head. She initially focused on works by such American artists as Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. Warhol gave Sturtevant one of his silkscreens so she could produce her own versions of his Flowers paintings, and when asked about his technique, once said, "I don't know. Ask Elaine."' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elaine_Sturtevant

The work of making a superb pastiche is very highly respected in the art world. See this fictitious 1930s-style animation from a few years ago:


This topic is really fascinating but OTOH the art world is a horrible phenomenon on a social level. It's not a place where deep thinking happens, at least not in public.

>If there is real scarcity because of climate change or other widespread disaster, how much can a piece of this ‘quality’ be sold for? A loaf of bread, or less?

First, if it's just from climate change, it will be gradual increase in scarcity and all kinds of methods of growing food become viable as the price of bread increases. So unless climate change actually makes Banksy undesirable, it will still be worth more loaves of bread than one person could eat in a lifetime.

Second, if it's an acute wide-spread disaster, the only thing that becomes relevant is food/water/shelter /weapons/first-aid. Not only would a Banksy be worthless, but so would the world's biggest diamond as well as the cure for cancer.

So it's a meaningless comparison just based on the fact that you don't like rich people out-bidding each other over art (and subsequently supporting artists).

Once you start down the road of being dictator of spending on expensive things that aren't solving starvation, all kinds of things like space exploration, the development of the internet, etc all become "sorry effects". Guess how many villages could be fed on the budget of the Apollo program.

The difference is the number of people a product or a project will likely help times the ‘utility’ each person receive.

> Once you start down the road of being dictotoe of spending on expensive things that aren't solving starvation, all kinds of things like space exploration, the development of the internet, etc all become "sorry effects". Guess how many villages could be fed on the budget of the Apollo program.

I do not advocate dictating spending but propose designing a better incentive system for rich people to spend money on useful things. See my reply to another comment down below.

What are ‘useful’ things?

Your examples here have good probabilities of turning into ‘utility’ for the masses. Cure of cancer (obvious), Apollo program (many scientific advances), ...

Bidding up prestige and coolness is a zero sum game and only increases a small bit of satisfaction of a few rich people.

It is about valuing the needs of the rich and the masses more equitably.

That money doesn't just vanish though. It's a wealth transfer from Adam to Bernice. Adam's bank balance drops from £100m to £99m, Bernice's goes from £100m to £101m.

If that transfer didn't happen, then both bank balances would remain at £100m. Nothing is lost or gained, it's irrelevant (Although in Banksy's case the original first sale often involves a transfer of wealth from Adam and Bernice to a random person)

There's nothing inherently good or bad about rich people playing money games with each others assets, it's not the same as Adam paying £10m to destroy a town and gain £20m in profit from exploiting the resources, or indeed divert tens of thousands of high-skilled effort per month into something like the Apollo program.

Miles Mathis is very provocative on what 'art' is - he feels it is a massive money laundering exercise... http://mileswmathis.com/launder.pdf

The transaction costs are bad, which may or may not be substantial.

Any transaction costs go to paying the auction house for things like catering, electricity, security, rent etc. No worse than a bunch of rich people spending money at a restaurant.

There's an argument that auction houses aren't paying their way for the services they use (especially in expensive areas), and other functions occupying that space could be better for society. A land value tax would solve that. I'm not aware that auction houses rely on other things like copyright or patents that can stifle economic activity.

You've put my thoughts about this very succinctly. Completely agree.

  > Once you start down the road of being dictator 
  > of spending on expensive things that aren't solving
  > starvation, all kinds of things like space exploration,
  > the development of the internet, etc all become "sorry
  > effects". Guess how many villages could be fed on
  > the budget of the Apollo program.
Feels super weird to me that in its full context the point of this sentence wasn't "We should stop letting people starve to death instead of sending people into space"

> Feels super weird to me that in its full context the point of this sentence wasn't "We should stop letting people starve to death instead of sending people into space".

I think the point was that you can apply that logic to anything... However if you really wana talk about spending on space programs vs spending directy on starving people, consider where we would be technologically, scientifically etc as a society if we always chose to spend money on the needs of others (of which there is an endless supply) directly rather than invest it in lofty ideas - It's pure speculation, but I image the difference would be direct spending would only ever briefly solve short term problems, but ultimately civilisation as a whole would be in a worse place.

In other words, we can take knowledge with us into the future, not food. and in this context, banksy is politically charged knowledge striving for change - which is bought and sold by rich people for better or worse.

We could invest in lofty ideas to alleviate starving...

Isn't that exactly what happened? Banksy is an artist who feels that capitalism causes suffering (presumably including starving). This sale results in his ideas about alleviating starving by ending capitalism to be propagated and provides him with the funds to further propagate those ideas.

"Why Explore Space? A 1970 Letter to a Nun in Africa"


NASA Associate director Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger elaborates on this topic.

That's a famously unconvincing argument.

How so?

Money is not really a scarce resource though - we can always print more of it. A million dollars spent on an artwork doesn't mean there are a million fewer $1 tins of beans made. That's not how the economy works.

An extra million dollar on the piece get spent by many organizations and people involved and increases the production of the resources they want and decreases the allocation of resources to produce things other people want.

Unless they store most of it in a bank somewhere and don’t use it, it has effects on the real economy.

Yes, it has effects on the real economy (although in the case of these high-value positional goods I'd argue they're rather smaller than you might think - as likely both buyer and sellers are simply swapping for money which otherwise will sit in a bank account so the effects are limited to those imparted by the middle-men).

My point was, the economy is not a zero-sum game.

Money is the force carrier for the value field. Humans exchange value, quantized as money, and the value field is stronger in some areas of our world.

Like any force carrier, they are fungible, and they are constantly being created and annihilated. Banks emit and absorb them strongly, other organizations less so.

You know Banksy made a film about exactly what you’re describing called “Exit Through The Gift Shop” right?

What good was that film if it made us "think", but not act?

I believe OP is putting the lessons in that film into action in his life, and those actions are present in the thoughts expressed in his words, and happily not the other way around like the people in and outside the art world giving lip service to Banksy.

There is an obvious political response to the question of "why is contemporary art what it is?" Some contemporary pieces sell for more than works by the ancient masters, sometimes at the astonishment of the public ("how can an ugly piece of burnt wood sell for more than a Goya painting?").

As art is exempted of taxes in most parts of the world, this is an obvious vehicle for tax evasion, money laundering, speculation and financial crime. That's why so many things that the common man would deem "bad jokes" are supposed to be "art": because it's financially useful for the rich and the powerful. It's (mostly) a sham, not to say a swindle.

You raise a good point.

People are free to do how they like with their money, but outrageously some spend it frivolously in cheaply-made art for status or tax evasion purposes.

Bill Gates late-life philanthropy raises a counterpoint to this, in my view. The wealthy don't owe anything to anyone, but that's how a person starves to death waiting for a little mercy. Mr. Gates now invests in saving people, not in art, and that's a worthier status giver.

From a moral point of view, they should be charitable since they have so much that giving away a little bit of their fortune would have a tremendous impact on a significant amount of people while themselves being none the worse for it.

Auctioning art is now part of art, imho. Auctioneers and buyers are part time artists. It is quite meta but fits well with the postmodern world we live in. Art as aesthetic creation is finished, commodified, and soon to be produced by robots.

As for the prices, people can allocate a lot of money to a token, as long as other people still believe in it. Cryptocurrencies take this abstraction to the max. Art is more traditional than cryptos.

I am personally very cynical that there is even a shred of value to high-market art sales. It's all a game for the upper-rich. But your "children are starving" comment is off. People have different motives to spend money, a starving kid's has a motive and so does a rich person's who wants to be the buyer of a piece. Both are respectable, human needs, but we are much more likely to relate to the kid. This doesnt mean its somehow bad to have the other.

> Not referring to this specific exhibit but other pieces by a similar artist. Thousands of people can create this kind of paintings for cheap. That it still sells for more than what many people can make in a decade or a career means a stratospheric concentration of wealth in society or a bubble in the commercial art world.

Not really. The level of wealth required to reasonably make a purchase like this is what? 20 million? That's not 'stratospheric'. It's richer than I am, to be sure. But it's only between 2 orders of magnitude richer than your average software engineer's annual salary. I think that's a pretty reasonable level of wealth inequality, and not really indicative of much at all.

> If there is real scarcity because of climate change or other widespread disaster, how much can a piece of this ‘quality’ be sold for? A loaf of bread, or less?

Your point here proves the exact opposite of what you think it does. The fact that people can invest vast resources in things that aren't immediately useful for survival is an incredible testament to the stability and productivity of our economy. Because you're right, if people thought there was any significant chance of things going mad max, they certainly wouldn't be investing in art.

> That millions of children still starve but a piece of simplistic art is worth more than the value of food a whole village consumes in a decade is a sorry effect of the financial system we use or the way our society assigns ‘coolness’ score to people and activity.

Is it? Or do prices simply reflect our personal valuations of things? Which is to say, every decision each of us makes of what to do with our individual time and money sets a price. When you wrote this comment, you chose to invest your free moments in it, rather than earning money to donate to the poor. Is that a sad commentary on the state of the world? Or is it just the natural consequence of people being allowed to allocate their own resources?

Two orders of magnitude above something that’s already a ridiculous amount of money globally speaking. That’s not exactly reasonable, the fact that it’s not that much money compared to the real super-rich people is just a reminder of the unfortunate reality of long-tail economy.

You are free to spend your "ridiculous amount of money" however you please. If you don't donate most of what you earn to help starving children, maybe doing that and living just above the poverty line is a good place to start, before advocating that others give up their QoL.

I suppose I don't really understand. Why do you think it is bad to have rich people? It's often stated as if it's tautologically true, or self-evident. What do you think is the harm caused by that?

Would the rest of us be better off if we simply deleted the money of the rich?

That's obviously a wrong question to ask. Multibillionaires are a symptom, not the disease.

Symptom of what? High productivity?

I don't think two orders of magnitude is a reasonable level of wealth inequality.

What gives you the right to decide what other people do with their stuff? How would you feel if someone came along and said "I don't think two orders of magnitude is a reasonable level of wealth inequality, so I'm taking everything you own to give it to poor Africans"?

Imagine two people both making $100k/year. One saves/invests half their income, the other saves 0%. In 20 years, one has a million dollars of savings, the other has less than a thousand: three orders of magnitude of wealth inequality. The saver, by exercising restraint and not consuming everything he produces, has contributed more to the economy by allowing the fruits of his labours to be invested, increasing future productivity. If we penalise the saver and favour the wastrel, we incentivise and get less savings and investment, hence in the long term less growth and lower standards of living for everyone.

If you own two orders of magnitudes more than somebody else, that means you can buy the stuff that they might need so they don't get it, such as land and labour.

That's also a form of violence.

I'm not saying that the saver should be penalized and the wastrel favored, you're reading way too much into this.

What I am saying is that high wealth inequality is a sign of decay in a society and it's in the best interest of everyone to ease it.

The rhetoric here implies that the poster believes there is no middle ground and also poverty is caused by individual, personal flaws (a reasonably close approximation to argue that a rich man is more moral than a poor man inherently because being wealthy is morally good).

>The rhetoric here implies that the poster believes there is no middle ground and also poverty is caused by individual, personal flaws (a reasonably close approximation to argue that a rich man is more moral than a poor man inherently because being wealthy is morally good).

It's not about morality at all; if the universe is deterministic, all behaviour was caused by the big bang, and if it's random, than all behaviour can be traced back to chance. Even in this case that all action is predetermined and nobody is at all responsible for their life (hence the concept of morality makes no sense), in terms of system design it still holds that a system that encourages economically beneficial behaviours (saving/investment) will result in better economic outcomes than a system that penalises them.

The key thing to understand about economics is it tries not to assume any morality. There is no absolute "moral good" (which is trivially provable by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regress_argument), value only exists in the minds of people. And the clearest revelation of what people value is what people are willing to spend their time, money and the fruit of their labours on.

What gives people the right to own “stuff” in the first place? We live in society. If people aren’t happy with the rules, they can go live in a cave and burn their millions for warmth.

>What gives people the right to own “stuff” in the first place? We live in society. If people aren’t happy with the rules, they can go live in a cave and burn their millions for warmth.

If you're an American, then the society you live in has a constitution it's agreed to follow that stipulates people have private property, and the state doesn't have the right to arbitrarily seize it.

That aside, regardless of what society you live in, the last century demonstrated pretty clearly that taking rich people's stuff and banishing/killing/imprisoning them ends up making everyone in the society poorer, see for instance the communist revolutions in Russia and China. Because you destroy the incentive to invest, and to take the risks of starting a business. You also take money from the people who've demonstrated the best ability to invest it, and give it to people who've demonstrated minimal ability to invest or create value, resulting in a massive reduction in productive investment being made.

There's a healthy midpoint between sending the rich to gulags and letting people accrue wealth without restriction.

> The saver, by exercising restraint and not consuming everything he produces, has contributed more to the economy by allowing the fruits of his labours to be invested, increasing future productivity.

Is that so? I'm not so sure. How can we know that the spender didn't contribute more to the economy by spending 50k/year more on goods and services?

Value is created by production: someone has to make something before it can be consumed. To increase productivity, to increase the ability to produce more things, investment is needed, be it in research, infrastructure or education. If everything that is produced (the $100k worth of value) is consumed, there's nothing left to invest.

More empirically, the fact that people are willing to pay the saver interest for his saving/investment demonstrates that it must be creating some value. That interest is essentially payment to the saver for refraining from consumption.

Thanks, good point.

I don't think that a rich heir contributed THAT much more to society than, say, a poor Amazon warehouse worker.

It an effect if individual freedom. Unfortunately, that includes the freedom to assign value to things that may be objectively valueless. People spend billions on junky movies, tv shows and apps. But what are you going to do, ban entertainment? It’s been tried.

>sorry effect of the financial system

Maybe but if you think about it it's an exchange of a bit of paper with some marks on which could easily be reproduced for some 0s and 1s representing a bank balance which could be reproduced or qualitatively eased and the like too. The transaction has no direct effect on the amount of food produced or how much get to children. The worst famines in recent history have been caused by people in ok fed countries saying look at this financial system, it's wack, lets smash it, and then finding millions get hungry and possibly dead, see Russia, China and Venezuela.

> is a sorry effect of the financial system we use or the way our society assigns ‘coolness’ score to people and activity.

Sorry, but if you think this is a modern, western, or somehow unique situation in human history you’re lacking a lot of context. This is just how humans work.

A good percentage of people appreciate art, a small percentage of people like flaunting their wealth, and between these two groups societies have elevated artists and art since we stopped roaming the plains and start building cities.

Recently Damien Hirst has had to scale back operations because his brand of 'art business' is not selling. Fashions change and also there is a limit as to how many people will pay an absolute fortune to become part of the exclusive club of people with 'spot paintings' on their walls.

When the going was good his company hired hundreds of people. All of them slaving away making and 'retailing' his art. This was good for the local economy as lots of younger people with no local workplace opportunities were given a chance to earn a crust.

Although Damien Hirst never was the 'housewife's favourite' in the way that Banksy is, essentially it was the same game, 'art business' which is not to be confused with 'art'. 'Art business' is very much about making money, not making 'art'.

With Banksy there are a lot of hangers on that try their hardest to monetize official Banksy creations. Although Banksy's style is original it is also an easy style to fake. Banksy by being anonymous keeps some safe artistic distance from this ugly art business aspect.

More generally though it is funny how there is no money in the wider art business right now. It is a business that has gone the same way as antique collecting, there is no greater fool to sell on to.

>Global auction sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips jumped 21.6% in the first half of 2018, according to the latest report by ArtTactic.

- Salvator Mundi sold last year for $430 million.

I imagine the art business will go on a while. Even if Hirst is having a down turn.

Millions of children will starve because they are being born by women without access to contraception, without the intelligence/education to know that having multiple children without food security is a bad idea, or because they are forced to by their husbands.

Help solve those issues first if you must, and don't worry about paintings.

This is a funny comment about this particular piece of art because it is an obvious & unsubtle reading of the theme of this piece (and other Banksy pieces).

What's your reading of it?

I’m not sure honestly. I’ve been thinking about it a lot (which to me means it’s actually good art).

I think the obvious & unsubtle reading above makes a ton of sense. It is a critique of the modern art business for sure.

But also it seems likely that the auction company was in on this so I sort of read it as a statement that you cant separate the business of art from the making of art.

Joy also has value and part of being an artist is building an audience

> Thousands of people can create this kind of paintings

But you didn’t.

It is not artifact of any financial system, this would happen even if we had full communism, just illegally and with barter/favor payments. It is artifact of human nature.

With a different kind of accounting, people behaviors may change. The wealthy art consumers want status, prestige, and acceptance as one of the ‘cool’ crowd. Or when buying for investment, they expect some will buy from them for those effects.

If we make it much more prestigious and ‘cool’ for people to show off their equivalent donations to starving children, fewer will bid for the drawings and more will donate.

As someone who makes most of his money from non-profit organizations, I can say that "competitive donating" is a sport which many of the older rich people will play. The ones who play hardest are typically near the end of their rope and worried that they won't be remembered fondly or won't get into heaven (see: the catholic church).

It was so much simpler when the church could just sell indulgences...

The free market provides more efficient price discovery for indulgences

Definitely, but that has nothing to do with the financial system. Actually the current financial system is the only known system able to create fortunes big enough that someone is able to donate anything; and the system enables it, contrary to others that are designed only with citizens in mind. Another problem is that other systems are designed, the one we have now is more or less natural - people will always trade unless they can get everything for free, which is not possible at the moment and probably won't be for the next 50 years at least. A lot of value would be lost if people didn't use money; this value might seem low per transaction, but it's a lot on a country/global scale.

>the current financial system is the only known system able to create fortunes big enough that someone is able to donate anything

You mean the current financial system where concentrated wealth yields concentrated power to effect change?

And almost everyone is born into a situation where their wealth & power is insignificant compared to the rare individual who has been the beneficiary of the feature where rapidly or not there is a net flow concentrating resources disproportionately toward those already wealthy & powerful?

Nominally, the traditional result is that the few having most concentrated wealth are the ones capable of effecting the changes they desire, with most everyone else serving these masters in one way or another. With the servant class being highly restricted in their ability to develop personal wealth of their own, much less direct major resources toward independently progressive positive objectives.

I must assume that the current financial system is the same one as that of Genghis Khan.

So naturally there is a long precedent.

Anyway, back on topic not every single artist or engineer serves this type of master, just most of them.

Some create value or enhance wealth, some devalue or destroy, what else is new?

>We could invest in lofty ideas to alleviate starving...

This wise investment was fortunately made starting at just the most opportune time in human history, and has compounded itself remarkably in only a few generations. Many approaches are now well known, only requiring a properly-scalable "seed" committment for their relative degrees of success to be proven on the larger scale.

I guess we need to invest in lofty equitable distribution of resources, especially essential survival commodities.

Creating or spreading surplus value can require a lot of work, but those at the top of the food chain don't really have to do it if they don't feel like it since wealth is flowing their way already.

Plus there is just so much wealth & plenty already which is not having a fraction of the positive effect it could be making.

Sorry but right now I don't have time for full reply. Consider that many problems you listed are caused by regulation (that supports corporations and their interests), not the financial system itself. The same system is used elsewhere with better results.

Two thoughts: I don't see a viable way to change what society views as prestigious and 'cool'.

I can see the argument that the amounts spent on works of art are excessive, but it seems like we should at least keep in mind that this does benefit society by supporting the creation of great art.

that's a pretty vapid statement. aren't all crimes an "artifact of human nature"? isn't everything we do and create, for that matter?

also, how would a stateless society even have the concept of legality?

We're not talking about crimes, we're talking about desires. And yes, that's why blaming the financial system is wrong - nothing would change.

Stateless society can still have justice, courts, rules, police... It's just driven by someone else.

you're actually not making any sense. you're saying that no matter what financial system we have, nothing would change, so there's no point in changing it, and there's no point in not changing it. and if courts and police exist in the way that they exist in our society, then that wouldn't be a stateless society by definition.

I'm saying that changing the financial system will change nothing and there is no point in changing it, yes. Part of the world tried other systems and failed miserably, thus we should focus on education and other social factors instead of trying to fix something that isn't broken (what is broken is the current regulation, not the system itself).

Ad communism: That's not true. Have you read anything from the communist theory? Marx, at least? I mean, more than a part of one book?

Communism is a change in ownership and control, but that doesn't mean that a police-like body wouldn't exist (it might not, though). They just call it "people's militia". The court system would be different, but a court nonetheless. A corporation can have police and courts and it's still a corporation. Military, the same. Even today these are deliberately kept as separate as possible from the governing body (what we usually mean with "state").

Thus I think you have mixed up the definition of "state" in "stateless".

have you read marx? he didn't have any actual conception of a communist society. and anyway, that's a bit like trying to understand capitalism by only reading adam smith, which would be incoherent.

and it sounds like you're really describing the 20th century model of essentially replacing boards of directors with government officials and calling that communism. and that's the most basic and universal criticism of 20th century communism that marxists have today, which is that that model preserved the internal logic of capitalism by preserving the structures which concentrated (capital) power within a handful of people in the same way that capitalism does, or something like that. and if you're being faithful to marx, none of those are communist societies, it's more like stage zero socialism.

i'm not trying to start a flame war, i was just confused about what you were saying, but i think i understand now.

> he didn't have any actual conception of a communist society

This is my point, actually. There is no one who would forbid a group of people to appoint a few members of their community to be "police"; there is no one who would forbid a group of people to create a court. And there is nothing saying that would make it a state. Communism is about self-governed societies, not anarchy in the destructive "I can do whatever because there is no police" sense.

Even actual anarchy wouldn't be like that because if you hurt enough people, they will hurt you, and that's why you don't even do it. Later in development, they'd pay someone in advance to hurt you if you hurt them. The same thing would happen in communism, just there wouldn't be money changing hands and the organizational specifics would be different.

Saying that any form of leadership would make a stateless society not stateless is nonsense. My family is not a state and yet we have a leader. My apartment building is not a state and yet we have a leader. Etc. There will always be a leader (or a group of leaders), the difference lies in who owns what and how are the leaders appointed (e.g. on basis of what) and what rights they have. Without any leaders, the society would collapse.

A "stateless" society does not exist, as long as people live together they need tp assign certain roles, and that is a "state", however rudimentary. And if roles are not assigned by agreement, someone will create them by force.

i think what communists usually mean by a stateless society is that there's no formal document or structure that authorizes a concentration or monopoly of power within any institution.

It stopped half way, to me it is more 'art' than before.

Yeah whoever bought that has probably made a profit already, its a lot more interesting now.

whoever bought it also payed the same exact price as Banksy’s all-time auction record set 10 years ago, down to the pound.

I’m not clear on whether it stopped or was stopped?

Has anyone been able to find video of the shredding happen? Finding videos on youtube is such a crapshoot nowadays with people uploading/copying the same videos or some lame commentary over static images.

How many people were involved in the recording of that video? Who did the editing? What a publicity stunt...

There is a clip on a Instagram "Banksy" account: https://www.instagram.com/banksy/

I would like to know the details on how he pulled it off, I refuse to believe the auction house was unaware of the stunt.

Sadly what happened to a Banksy in Detroit maybe gave him the idea. An artist group 'extricated' the work from the ruins of the Packard auto plant. The new owner of the building who was planning to use the Banksy as a centerpiece for a retail center was not pleased. They promised to not sell it, then they did.


In Germany, there is a second part of copyright law. The actual copyright can be sold as usual, but the Urheberpersönlichkeitsrecht (creator's personal right) cannot. It gives the creator the right to forbid public presentations of his work that misrepresent his artistic vision.

The architect of Berlin Main Station (Norman Foster, if I'm not mistaken) used this law to (successfully) sue Deutsche Bahn (the German national railway company) for reparations when they changed the plans and used a cheaper ceiling construction than he designed.

These are known generally as moral rights[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_rights

Wasn't it Marc & Gerkan?

You're right, the architect in question was Meinhard von Gerkan.

What a depressing story. Banksy stunt is uplifting, that story really made me sad.

As a magic aficionado my bet is that the picture was rolled into the frame and a pre torn version popped out the bottom. Like the old dollar bill trick. Still impressive.

I highly doubt it. I don't think Banksey is worried about a print being damaged.

From the video that Banksy posted, the shredding mechanism just doesn’t make any sense. X-acto blades at that angle wouldn’t shred in the way it come out of the frame. There’s clearly something else happening here.


Absolutely. It would not work. See the other comment suggesting the shredded version was stored in the frame.

That was my initial thought, too, because it would be very difficult to store the required power for a high torque shredder for that many years.

Then I realized there must have been a big ass slot in the bottom of the frame, something no art inspector would miss. If the auction house had known about it and then it really could have been done any number of ways.

It's hard to be absolutely certain given the limited photographic evidence, but I think in light of those concerns it's the most likely option.

This is just so impressive to me. That this was set in motion in 2006 with the engineering and frame design and executed perfectly 12 years later is just so magnificent I’m almost tearing up.

The way the it was shredded and stopping halfway allows the piece to still be hung, and in my mind, this massively increases the notoriety and value of the piece.

To prank Sotheby’s like this at the moment that the auctioneers gavel falls, is truly epic. Truly a great and well executed piece of performance art. I want video!

> Balloon Girl is a 2002 mural by graffiti artist Banksy depicting a young girl letting go of a red heart-shaped balloon.

It's a 2006 copy of a 2002 mural[0]. There is no mention of where the copy originated from though, nor any indication that the frame was part of the 2006 piece.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balloon_Girl


Sotheby's posts lot details on their site for all auctions. The provenance on this one is quite direct. Banksy -> "Current Owner" -> Whoever won the auction

Banksy himself made the frame.

However, rumor that I've seen among the art world is that Banksy was the "Current Owner" as well as the bidder. The piece sold for the exact same amount (to the pound) as his previous record Sotheby's auction. People are also not buying that Sotheby's wasn't in on it - wooden frames like this have to be verified to be free of pests like termites, etc., which the lot details report was done. It seems unlikely that in verifying the frame to be pest free they would have missed a motorized shredder in it. Especially since the shredded pieces had to go out somewhere...

The frame was part of Banksy’s original idea per the auction house.

>Sotheby's — which had noted before the sale that the work's ornate gilded frame was "an integral element of the artwork chosen by Banksy himself" — expressed surprise at the incident.

[1] https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-banksy-s...

Here's a picture from Banksy's instagram account at the moment the picture was shredded. Just look at the reactions of the onlookers.


Original entry on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bokt2sEhlsu/

lol the Asian lady at the front with the big smile. Maybe she got outbid.

How would a bunch of X-Acto blades laying parallel with the canvas be able to cleanly cut it into strips? It seems more likely that the frame contained a pre-cut version that it just rolled out.

I think it's a set-up.

The portion of the artwork with the head at top seems disjointed from the rest of the shredded portion (the original picture has normal human proportions).

So, it seems at least, that there may be two works of art.

One which remains unshredded and one which was already shredded (and was released by some mech). Whatever powered the light, likely powered the release mechanism for the shredded and unshredded works of art.

If so, still remains an impressive stunt.

The "disjointedness" is probably due to the artwork being fed back and forth between some rollers. You can see a significant kink at the bottom of the shredded portion, probably due to it being stored pre-fed into the rollers. The rest of the shredded portion lies flat, suggesting that it has been stored flat -- and may be the original piece.

I find it curious, though, that the piece was made with such a significant lower margin hidden by the frame. It certainly suggests it was created for this stunt.

Bingo. I’ll bet the new owner can run it backwards and repeat this brilliant hack.

It's unlikely this was planned in 2006. That's a pretty big assumption to make.

The Sotheby's auction page says the piece was "Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2006", so either the owner or Soethby's collaborated with Banksy, or Banksy built the shredder into the frame in 2006.

Or, I guess, Banksy could have offered the owner the frame prior to the auction, without the owner being aware of what it did.

> Banksy could have offered the owner the frame prior to the auction, without the owner being aware of what it did.

That's very unlikely as it would take special care to mount the print in such a way that I would fall downward.

Typically framed works are held in place.

Banksy is not typical, though. As noted in other articles, the auction house stated that the artist gave them the frame as it was an integral part of the artwork.

This has been planned for some time it seems.

It's quite possible, but are there batteries that last 12 years?

Yes, li-ion batteries in pacemakers last that long.

I'm honestly struck by how _cheap_ this piece was sold for. Banksy is a household name unlike most contemporary artists. Pieces by Jeff Koons have sold for 50 million but Banksy struggles to cross the 1 million mark? I'm surprised that there are no tech millionaires or Wall Street Titans buying up the pieces.

Different trajectories:

Banksy's work is rooted in street art, which is historically priced at zero or less and/or priceless, i.e. usually not removed from source (exterior walls of public infrastructure) and viewed as expense by local govt (cost to clean off) but may simultaneously be loved by residents in the community it's located in. It's also subject to unexpected change or erasure (destroyed or painted over by municipal govt or other grafitti artists). So, it's not surprising that it took longer for Banksy's work to reach $M price levels.

In contrast, Koons' work is commercial to the core and on a grand scale (per physical size, amount and cost of materials, etc). The upper bounds of pricing on his work is open to debate but the lower limit was always meant to be significantly above zero.

> ...but Banksy struggles to cross the 1 million mark?

Well, now you have to add in a "risk factor" that the work you buy doesn't survive intact. Which could go either way -- non-shredded Banksy original vs. Banksy shredded original print.

Jeff Koons Art ist actually pretty good, I can’t say the same of Banksky. The value of Art is sometimes inversely related to how popular it is, because it then can be no longer used to signal that you „get“ it.

To each their own. I google-imaged Jeff Koons, and I didn't find any appealing to look at or would want around my house (except maybe giant flower puppy :P)

Well you have to see the pieces in person, I think some of them look fantastic if you already own a completely ridiculous mansion or a semi-public space like a luxury resort in Dubai or something. They are definitely cool to look at in a museum context, I saw them at the Centre Pompidou two years ago.

> Banksy


> Jeff Koons


Big art has been hijacked by big money. Art as an investment vehicle, something to preen yourself with, show others you are elite.

This shows the hypocrisy. Unfortunately it will not change anything. The piece has just become more valuable, I predict.

Go Banksy. Art for the masses.

This piece was excellently executed but shredding may not have been the best way to make that point (even if it is a good laugh). A few quick thoughts on how this idea could be modified if the goal is to poke at the art market:

- Destroy the original completely. This would be difficult as even ashes from burning could be resold and exhibited. I’m also not sure destruction captures the right point.

- Reverse the shredder idea to instead have a photocopier in the frame. Have the copier spit out “originals” on demand and reveal that there is no actual original piece.

- Have money literally effect the art (or have the money become the art). Like fill the air gap in the frame with dollar bills upon purchase or something super in your face like that.

- Reveal new information about the piece or about the artist that makes owning the piece horribly distasteful.

- Physically print a giant photo of the new owner’s face over the art when the auction completes.

- Have the artwork be a complete pain to exhibit or care for. Maybe it comes with a button that has to be pressed every 108 minutes or else the price gets shredded (sadly this would almost certainly result in some guy getting paid almost nothing to sit about and press the button for years)

Banksy is always a bit too smirky for me, however I can’t complain too much as this armchair is really quite comfortable.

Find most of these ideas kind of empty, personally, except the photocopier one. Really like that.

I think that the more democratic statement would be to not create anything special at all.

Create your art in digital form only. Release it on DeviantArt or on some similar website under CC0. Then say that you would sell "first author's printout" of it or something. As soon as somebody buys it on an auction, you go on the scene with old laptop and cheap printer. You demonstratively go to DuckDuckGo, search for your artwork, open worst quality result from the first page, select "Print..." in Firefox's menu, select worst quality (saying loudly that you want to conserve ink) and press "Start".

Big money art is not just an investment vehicle, it allows collectors to do things that would be difficult or illegal with other assets.

For example: You and a few of your rich buddies buy up as much artwork as you can from a famous but not too famous dead artist. Say, 10 pieces at a million a piece. I sell my friend one of them for 1.5 million and another for 1.7. I buy his for 2 and 3 million. Repeat a few times, and now you've established a pattern that this artist's work is becoming more valuable. After several years, you all sell your paintings for 5-10 million a piece.

this is pump and dump and is possible with every kind of asset.

The amount of capital needed is different

It’s also an incredible vehicle for money laundering.

> Big art has been hijacked by big money. Art as an investment vehicle, something to preen yourself with, show others you are elite.

Or to just flip, without ever putting it on display. On industrial scale.



Highjacked is a strange term considering it's always been like that...

Nothing has been hijacked. Artists create art, for fun or profit. Rich people sell it to each other.

Art has meaning, and some intended meanings expressed through art are nullified when the art piece is turned into a commodity.

Artists rebelling against commodification of their art pieces in the past saw their own anti-commodification art works turned into commodities, thus nullifying their message.

The message that comes through becomes the ideas that you have expressed.

Modern artists like Banksy or Damien Hirst, or anyone who has read Naomi Klein's "No Logo", are knowledgeable of this.

>Art as an investment vehicle, something to preen yourself with, show others you are elite.

And something to launder money with.

In the art world, Banksy is seen largely as trite and is known to attract new and dumb money. If you've seen his film "Exit Through The Gift Shop", Mr. Brainwash, the aspiring artist he portrays, is quite similar to how anyone who knows or cares a little about art sees Banksy himself.

It isn't just "big money" saying this - ask any cool (poor) artists or curators if they like Banksy and you'll be laughed out of the room. He's the Nickelback of contemporary art. It's not because of his message - lots of other artists make biting, hilarious attacks on global capitalism and consumer culture, if that's what you're into.

Also, as others in this thread have pointed out, practices like this shredding don't actually devalue the piece, and may in fact increase it's value. The shredding is an empty gesture signifying the rejection of a culture that the piece is very much a part of. If a piece is just an investment vehicle, what effect does humiliating the owner of the piece have on the piece's function as an investment vehicle, if it does not lower the value? They (allegedly) own the art only for it's value, so how does this strike back at them?

If you want to look getting money out of art, you might start by looking at the early performance art tradition and what it achieved in terms of decommodification. Pay special attention to the amount of lying and inconsistent storytelling. Ask yourself whether "Exit Through The Gift Shop" (grossed 3MM in USA box office and set Banksy on the track to these $1mm sales) achieves any of the same decommodification.

The stunts are the art.

I am an artist myself. I don't see Banksy as being an anti-capitalist or anti-consumer culture artist. I see that aspect of his performance as a persona, exactly like Mr. Brainwash is, and that he uses that persona as background for his real art, which are the stunts he pulls off to delight wealthy patrons.

I also don't believe he is trying (ineffectively) to rebel against the commodification of art; he's knowledgeable and complicit in it, much like Damien Hirst.

A case for my argument is that he (deliberately) delighted the art auction audience with his stunt (as opposed to insulted); the art work was only half-shredded, allowing it to still be hung; knowing action houses, they had thoroughly inspected the art work before putting it up for auctioning, and were complicit with Banksy's stunt, and this much is evident in their good-natured choice of words for the press; the art work's value has only increased, as has his reputation as a (complicit and well-wishing) prankster.

In short, Banksy has taken the post-modernist concept of an artist with a persona that superficially and ineffectively rebels against capitalism while the real artist is actively, knowingly and profitably complicit with capitalism... Banksy has taken it to a sublime level, and that's why we in the art world who are in on the joke (and know who is really being laughed at: the public who believe in his flimsy anti-capitalist persona) love him as one of us.

While the art world is busy flaunting its taste, real people are reacting to and enjoying Banksy’s art. His name and his work will live on.

He also supports terrorist groups like Hamas.

Big money ruins art. I'm not a proponent of the "starving artist" mindset, but the simple fact is that the most honest, deep-felt art comes from struggle and passion, not from wealth and comfort.

Personally I think it's just as likely he's riffing on the ridiculous ways some behave having discovered a Banksy on the outside wall of some property in order to sell.

Whichever, or even if he is an evil capitalist villain, complete with white cat, laughing at our expense, I still like his messages and style.

The funniest part is that people would lose their minds if this happened to a Picasso.

Not if Picasso did it himself...

Great performance art. I've always thought about ridiculously expensive art self-destructing at point of sale, which is often auctions. I don't think art should be that inaccessible and I'm not asserting a specific threshold is but beyond a certain pricing level, art does become ridiculous. It would be interesting to see this incident repeat itself but with complete destruction - would the auctioneers argue that ashes or molten remains are still art?

Two possibilities, and by god I hope my first is right:

It's a super clever two-stage prank. At auction the picture is supposed to shred but it stops half way. Did it break? Was that the intention? Who knows! That's the mystery behind it. Now it's more than just a simple painting, it's a performance piece and worth significantly more! The half shredded portrait is hung up somewhere and weeks or months from now the shredder comes back to life for the finale of complete destruction. "Going... Going... Gone" became "Going up up and away!" Ha! Take that Banksy! Then full circle back to gone, Banksy has the last laugh. Bonus points if it does this in the middle of the night and the owner is greeted by a pile of shreds on the floor the following morning.

Second and more boring possibility: the shredder was supposed to fully destroy the picture at auction but unfortunately failed. I believe Banksy intended the piece to fully self destruct in full view of the auction house as a big "fuck you" to art hoarding and monetizing.

I wonder if legally the buyer can retract the buy? Although I'm sure it's worth more with that.

Funny how Banksy, who was anti commercial things before as a street artist, now is obviously very torn being selling out and not. He is still selling out with this sale, but couldn't stop himself from trolling the buyer.

I feel like I'd feel in a similar way - hard not to sell when so much money is in play.

It's not trolling, the work was a performance piece.

> It's not trolling, the work was a performance piece.

If the buyer wasn't aware of this prior to buying it then technically Banksy ruined the buyers art, or the buy can back out because he's not getting what he paid for.

But the buyer would be stupid to do so. Also, transformation to the point of self-destruction is an accepted part of art, at least since Joseph Beuys' "Fettecke".

What if the buyer just loved the piece of art prior and now hates it? I liked the before. The new “art” to me is crap. Art is subjective right? Not all art is purchased for its value. But the emotional connection one has for it. And such.

If you don't like it you can either return it and maybe get your money back, or sue, or whatever, or try selling it for much more. I am not even sure an assurance would cover this case, because it is obviously still there, and worth more, presumably.

right. But if the buyer bought the piece because they just want to see it in their home, and now don't like anymore, then it is ruined for them, even if they can sell it for more money :)

A performance, yes. But the deeper act is the very definition of trolling (in the broad sense of the word) :)

trolling is a art

One art, please.

What a clever impersonation of a stupid, poor person. How much is that placemat actually worth, Brannigan?

Yes, the buyer should be able to retract the buy. At this point the buyer head made a verbal agreement to purchase the artwork but the details haven't been worked out. It's rare but sometimes buyers can't come up with the money or there is some other reason why a deal can't go through.

The auction house has said that if an object is sold and is damaged before it leaves them, they will cancel the sale. They also followed this by saying something like "but this shredding will probably make it more valuable now!"

The ultimate rebellion is rebelling against the rebellion.

Of course early believers were going to criticize him as a sell out, but Banksy's message and its embedded criticism of modern capitalism become even more powerful when monetized.

His art mocks and attacks the principles of a materialistic modern society, but strangely this makes it more attractive and valuable to that same society; this can only be described as an absurd and paradoxical logic. An example of their stupidity. The final irony.

The buyers might look at it another way: "his works attack materialism, but now I own his work and can profit from it: I win, and materialism still stands."

There probably was no shredding at the auction - there are likely two images in the frame, one pre-shredded to a certain point. Look at the color of the "shredded" print. It's not the same - it's darker, probably didn't age as well 'cause it was cheaper paper. Not to mention that using two images is vastly simpler mechanically and economically than actually shredding it. You just have to roll up half of one image while rolling out half of another (shredded) image. Making a shredding noise is a lot simpler than shredding (and fits in a smaller frame.) There are so many magic tricks that exploit our expectation in just this way (such as sawing a lady in half.)

Of course, it's not in Banksy's interest to reveal the trick immediately. Let the publicity build.

The change in color likely has to do with the lighting. When it's removed from the wall you can see the square of light placed on the frame. https://youtu.be/5-RFj1Slcws?t=22

Some more background on the iconic image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balloon_Girl

Reminds me of this classic Ai Weiwei photo where he just destroys a Han Dynasty vase for no good reason. I honestly love this photo. It really speaks to the breaking of tradition and not being bound to the past.


Strip shredding implies a desire not to destroy the piece, but instead, to recognisably transform it.

Art made specifically to get media attention and keep the Banksy brand alive. A bit shallow, though.

I wonder why nobody mentioned Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) by William Gibson. It was a poem on floppy disc that was programmed to encrypt itself after a single use.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agrippa_(A_Book_of_the_Dead)

That was my first thought too. I remember the attention it got. And of course it was not so ephemeral, as people ensured the poem was captured, since in that case people knew it advance it would self-destruct.

It's an interesting poem, and one that probably was read far more because it was published the way it did than if it had been published the normal way. While I enjoyed poetry, it is the first and only time I've rushed to read a newly published lyrical work.

It's beautifully constructed in that it is about the distinction between memory and reproduction, and where the poem represents a reproduction of Gibsons own memories, the self-destruction served to make the book itself an event and creation of memories about the reproduction of the poem even in many cases in people who never got around to reading it, but just read about it.

It's also interesting because one of Gibsons own comments about it is about how we tend to remember the past in light of the present, not the way it actually was, and thinking about how I remember the work, I realise I have memories of text fading, but 1) my memories don't match how it was presented, 2) I never saw the original anyway.

I have distinct images of reading it in light blue on darker blue, but I would have read it on my Amiga. Those are not the Workbench colours, and the offline readers I used did not use that colour scheme - it's more likely that I'm confusing it with reading texts shared on floppy on my C64, years before. So our memories of Agrippa are themselves now an example of the theme of the poem itself.

Ironically, it is a cooperative project with Dennis Ashbaugh who designed the book as an art piece, and came up with the concept of the self-destruction, but whose part of the work has remained the lesser known part of the "package" despite (or because) not being the part to self-destruct.

I've never understood the art community's love for banksy. It's mind numbing drivel. South Park has far more depth and creativity.

Banksy is an artist that mocks the art world. He or she kinda makes fun of it. The art is decent, and its fun (sometimes undervalued in art circles). Banksy said in the forward of one of his book collections : art is controlled by just one group, the museum curators and rails against that.

Who else would set up a pop up shop outside the MET museum in NYC and sell original pieces and then report that they've sold only 6?


"The street prank gave Gothamist graffiti guru Jake Dobkin lots to mull over: Who's the joke about here, though? Is it that Banksy's work kind of sucks, from an empirical point, in that no one would buy it unless they knew who it was by? Or is the joke on everyone for not being smart enough to be there and recognize how valuable the stuff on sale was? As with all Banksy, there's kind of an edge to it that makes you feel a little annoyed—like he's having a joke at your expense.


I don't agree with you that it is mind numbing drivel. A lot of his works are cute or fun or provocative in their original settings. Often a light mix that really shouldn't be taken so very seriously.

But overrated, sure. In that what is fun to walk past painted on a wall somewhere easily loses something significant when it is detached from that context and elevated to the point much of his work is.

I live in a part of South London with lots of walls where street art is sanctioned, and I walk past a lot of it that I love where it is, but that I'd never consider putting on my wall at home. Banksy is a bit like that, in that I love that his work is out there on walls, but that doesn't mean it'd mean anything on my wall.

First time I heard about this thing. I don’t get it either. It just seems to be somewhat witty but ultimately trite artistic “punnery” - somewhat akin to those Reddit meme gifs with the witty but stupid captions.. just done more artistically.

I'm getting 503s, so here's an IPFS mirror:


I honestly don't know why anyone at the auction, who was interested in that piece, thought there would be no trick or strings attached, or why Sotheby's didn't suspect anything after investigating Banksy. The wiki excerpt shown by Google says "Banksy is an anonymous England-based street artist, vandal, political activist, and film director." It then goes on to call his works satirical and focused on dark humour.

Anyone willing to spend £1,000,000 on a piece of art by Banksy should know enough about him to imagine that he'd hate auctioning his work to the rich at an elite establishment like Sotheby's.

Discovered Banksy many years ago and I have to say: if there is a true artist it's him. Or maybe it's them? Still think it's very plausible that Banksy is a collective.

The creativity and ingenuity just seems too much for a single person.

I find the history behind it certanly interesting (and the art is amazing!). There was a documentary and a conspiracy theory too about the whole thing, just a movie, but good to watch IMO. "Art through the gift shop".

"exit through the gift shop"


ah right, sorry!

I bet it continues to shred after it being sold for 10 million.

Oddly, $1.4m is exactly the amount Bristol libraries are short in their budgets, which Banksy offered to help. If only he had sold the art.


It was only at the moment of shredding that Banksy finished his work.

I won't be surprised to see its estimated value double within a week.

Appraisers are saying the instant the artwork was shredded it became more of an artwork and is now worth a lot more.

Googling "self destructing art" yields some interesting finds, many centered around the Dada movement.

Thanksfully the original Banksy Girl with a balloon is still on some street in Amsterdam, visible to everyone. This frame was just an elaborate prank, as usual, to invalidate the "art market" scheme. From time to time forked Banksys are put on the commercial market. This was wonderful.

Plot twist: the buyer can now probably keep the frame + shreds and resell it for several times what they paid.

I assume they won’t actually have to pay? I’d guess whatever contract their is with the seller also requires that the art is delivered safely to the purchaser.

I wonder what the message is here, or if there is a message beyond the publicity. I guess something about the art having no inherent value...

It's now a part of art history, it would be a foolish move on the part of the buyer to not accept it. Banksy has reaffirmed why he's maybe the only contemporary visual artist today who counts as a household name. Although I guess we cuold debate whether he's first and foremost a visual artist, or a performance artist. The audacity of his stunts and trickery far outweigh the merits of his clever visual puns.

Walked past one of his works on the upper west side of manhattan. I wouldn’t have known it was his except for the plaque put up next to the plastic barrier installed to protect it.

Kind of crazy that the art is likely worth as much as the entire building it’s on. Although, this is Manhattan so who knows.

His works in the Gaza strip are definitely worth more than the entire buildings.

If that’s the case, I guess Banksy will be laughing even harder...

“But is the work destroyed? Or is it transformed? Even Branczik isn’t sure. “You could argue that the work is now more valuable,” Branczik said. “It’s certainly the first piece to be spontaneously shredded as an auction ends.”

since information cannot be destroyed (at least, according to quantum physics), i argue it's transformed. And it's just as valuable transformed, if not more so.

I doubt a burned, sorry, transformed, version of the Mona Lisa would be more worth than before.

What if Leonardo had very publicly transformed it before he died?

An urn with the ashes of the painting would not be that much worth or admired now.

Sports rather than art, but this comment is vaguely reminiscent of cricket.

They'll pay and be happy to do so.

Banksy's art is valuable exactly because his art pushes the boundary. It wasn't just destroyed for no reason. His graffiti art is meant to be public, and he has made no secret he thinks private art collection is bullshit.

But the shredding functionality was part of the work of art all along. A feature, not a bug!

I read on Vice they are already speculating that this may have increased its value.

The art isn't in the artifact.

A lot of it is, or nobody would have been buying to begin with.

The art isn't just in the artifact per se, it's in the causal history of it (and surrounding it), and the messages that can be interpreted from those histories. I wish we actually had two separate words for this - one for "art as in, I look at it and it looks moving", another for "art as in, the whole causal context of this work is interesting". Works are usually a mix of the two. Banksy's work was good in both categories, and just gained a lot in the latter. Compare to e.g. Mona Lisa, which is crap in the first category (both absolutely and relative to much better works that can be produced by anyone with a smartphone camera), and its whole value stems from the latter category - the history and context of the work.

Antiques Roadshow calls it "provenance." Some works are worth more because of who has owned them.

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