Arts & Entertainment

THE NAKED CITY – NIGHT OF THE LIVING SHRED

Mona Lisa

When Banksy’s Girl With Balloon was sold at auction for around a million pounds in 2018, the work of art self destructed, courtesy of a shredder, the instant the deal was done. It was a typical Banksy stunt, but who would have thought a few years later the same work would realise a staggering 18.6 million pounds. That’s the absurd sum that the retitled work Love In The Bin brought at a Sotheby’s auction earlier this month. 

At a time when the economy is supposedly suffering because of COVID and the lockdowns, and many people are doing it incredibly tough, it seems almost an obscenity that somebody would shell out this amount for what is essentially a piece of shredded paper. What it does say is that the super rich, despite any economic downturn, are probably getting richer and will continue to invest their billions in grossly overpriced works of art.

The Banksy phenomenon is very much a creature of the modern internet with its instant celebrity and viral spread of information via social media. With eBay, influencers and millions of online merchants, everything has a global price and Banksy is one of the market’s most valuable commodities. The intrinsic value of his works pales into insignifance when it comes to the dollar figure that defines them.

Compare Banksy to another so called street artist Keith Haring who emerged as part of the New York graffiti subculture of the 1980s. Haring was arguably a far more original and interesting artist than Banksy, although many might disagree. There was no internet at the time to propel any fame he might have garnered and sadly he died in 1990 long before he enjoyed any real reward. Today his artworks sell for millions and he is regarded as a major 20th century innovator.

Nevertheless there could well be something when it comes to the deconstruction of artworks as both a statement and a means of enhancing their value. It’s unlikely the Venus De Milo will ever lose the stump of her right arm, in the name of symmetry, but other famous works could well be targeted.

Personally I would like to start with UK artist Tracey Emin’s My Bed, which if you haven’t encountered is basically a very untidy unmade bed complete with grubby stains, crumpled sheets and litter everywhere. The installation sold in 2014 for 2.5 million pounds but its value would surely soar if it was deconstructed. In this case this would actually mean making the goddam thing, washing those disgusting bed clothes and shredding the copious amounts of litter that previously surrounded it. It might end up looking like just another anonymous product from Sleep City but at least the current owner could make it available to any future house guests.

The acquisition of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles was considered a major coup for the Whitlam government at the time, when they snapped it up for what is now considered a bargain basement price. I have always thought the work is too large and too elongated for anybody to take in during a gallery viewing. The solution would be to chop it up into about 2000 or more smaller pieces, making a giant jigsaw which members of the public would be encouraged to reassemble during their National Gallery visit.  You can already buy a much smaller Blue Poles jigsaw (hey, I put one together during lockdown) and this would simply be a much larger version. When the novelty wore off the individual pieces could be flogged off at Sotheby’s in London, reaping a massive return on the original $1.3 million purchase price.

Like him or hate him, Banksy has shown the way when it comes to deconstruction and shredding. Shredded artworks could soon become as common as shredded cheese or the contents of an office just prior to a raid by ASIC. Unsuccessful entries in the Archibald Prize could be shredded and return to their artists with a greatly enhanced value. Galleries throughout the country could shred off their most unpopular works and the very rich attending the next Sotheby’s fine art auction could have the option of shredding their millions of pounds before the auction even starts.

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