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Banksy’s Self-Shredding Stunt: Avant-Garde Prank or Cynical PR?

In further art world madness: Basquiat heads to Broadway, and Disney’s spray-painting drone

Courtesy: Instagram, Sotheby’s and the artist

Courtesy: Instagram, Sotheby’s and the artist

Courtesy: Instagram, Sotheby’s and the artist

We’re very sorry to report that Banksy is at it again. A painting by the enigmatic street artist, Girl with Balloon (2006), ‘self-destructed’ after selling for USD$1.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction in London on Friday night. Just as the gavel hammered down, and auction house staffers burst into applause at the sale – conveniently, the final lot of the evening – the painting appeared to drop from its faux-gilt frame, shredding itself into ribbons, and triggering a security alarm. Over the weekend, Banksy released a short film of himself concealing a shredder in the oversize picture frame, citing Picasso: ‘The urge to destroy is also a creative urge’. So, avant-garde gesture or cynical prank? ‘We were Banksy’d’, insisted Alex Branczyk, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Europe, telling The Art Newspaper: ‘You could argue that the work is now more valuable.’ Other critics stepped in to gush about the street artist’s debt to an art-historical tradition of self-destruction, and suggested he was flipping the finger to the art market. Of course it’s possible that Sotheby’s just missed a self-shredding mechanism embedded in a million-dollar artwork. And perhaps the shredder’s batteries really did last the 12 years the auction house and owner had it in possession. Or perhaps we’ve all been played by a tiresome bit of attention-seeking. As one wise tweeter noted, it’s not quite the same as when a coked-up Malcolm Morley, ‘the last wild man of modern art’, assaulted his own painting at auction in 1974, armed with a waster pistol.

That said, Disney might be able to give him a run for his money with PaintCopter – their new spray-painting drone. For now, Disney Research have designed the drone to work on maintenance work, helping with painting out-of-the-way or dangerous surfaces: the target area is scanned into a 3D map, before the machine, loaded up with tubes of paint, zones in. Judging from video footage, the PaintCopter’s skills seem more teenage vandal than intricate street artist, but surely it’s only a matter of time before the robot Basquiat emerges.

Speaking of that, the tragic life and times of Jean-Michel Basquiat is soon to become an all-singing all-dancing number on Broadway. The musical, set in the heyday of New York’s 80s downtown art world, is ‘inspired by the life and art’ of Basquiat, tracing his rise from street artist to legendary New York painter, and his death of heroin overdose at 27. Blessed by the late artist’s estate, the work will be composed by Jon Batiste, musician and leader of the ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’ house band, and will be directed by the Tony-winning John Doyle.

And finally, spare a thought for The Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries, who had a bruising encounter with the Hayward’s new show ‘Space Shifters’. Slamming into a clear panel in Larry Bell’s Standing Walls (1969–2018), Jeffries writes: ‘all I could see through the glass as I struggled with concussion was my wife and daughter giggling helplessly.’

In the Name of Art is our semi-regular compendium of (almost) unbelievable art world stories. Send your worst to digitaleditors@frieze.com

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