Banksy’s prank doesn’t quite make the cut

Emily Sheahan

The public were left stunned when a work of art was shredded before their eyes at Sotheby’s auction in London. Shielded by his anonymity, street artist Banksy has been attempting to turn a mirror on society since he first made a name for himself. On October 5th, his latest stunt saw a print of ‘Girl with Balloon’ slid through the bottom of its ornate frame, shredding itself moments after it was bought in auction for £1.04 million.

On the surface, the prank – destroying a piece worth a million – seemed like a piece of commentary on capitalism and consumerism. However, this could have just been a very successful marketing campaign by Banksy, for Banksy. The shredding of the print poses the question of the monetary worth of the art. As prints, they can be recreated time and time again. Ironically, the artwork has since increased in value since shredding itself.


However, if Banksy profited off this artwork then the authenticity of his intentions is questionable. Banksy’s stunt may be seen as critique of the art world where simple, recreatable, disposable stencil prints sell for millions – where their name tags sell for millions. To shred a work of art once it was bought for such a high price is a mockery of that society. If Banksy received $1.04 million for the semi-destroyed artwork, it’s role as mockery is not so convincing.


Perhaps he intended no deeper meaning to the performance and was simply pulling a long-con, a practical joke, knowing the world would take it and run with it. Maybe Banksy knew that everyone else would do the work for him, if his goal really was to make society take a long, hard look at itself.


In a video uploaded to Banksy’s YouTube channel, he gives a walk-through of the process and shows a rehearsal where the print shredded in full, implying the final project was intended to do the same. The piece changed from one artwork to another in a matter of seconds, earning itself a new name in the process: ‘Love Is in the Bin’. This was granted a certificate of authentication by Pest Control, Banksy’s handling body, naming it as an official Banksy piece.


The person who bought the painting not only watched it increase in value before her eyes, but also acquired a completely unique Banksy piece. She said that she was happy to go through with the purchase, explaining that: “When the hammer came down last week and the work was shredded, I was at first shocked, but gradually I began to realise that I would end up with my own piece of art history”.


Banksy uploaded a video to his Instagram page showing the process of making the shredding device and scenes from the shocked onlookers as it shredded in Sotheby’s auction. In that video he said he secretly built the shredder into the painting a few years ago “in case it was ever put up for auction”.


Banksy’s stunt could have been hilarious. It could have sat back and watched the world of people with too much money for their own good, panic. This was what Banksy’s work started off trying to achieve. In this case, he seems to have failed. When the piece increased in value, the snobbery of the art world subsequently fell back onto the street artist himself. While trying to be progressive, Banksy managed do a full circle and lumped himself into the pool of pretentious artists, profiting off a shock factor. His prank gave audiences a glance into his superiority complex. The humble, anonymous artist with well-meaning intentions is fading with each artwork that goes under the hammer.


Emily Sheahan

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