Behind the Banksy Stunt: An In-Depth Breakdown of the Artist’s Self-Shredding Painting

By now, even those of us who pay no atten­tion at all to the art mar­ket have heard about Banksy’s lat­est art stunt: a paint­ing called Bal­loon Girl that, when it sold for $1.4 mil­lion at auc­tion, then imme­di­ate­ly shred­ded itself. Assess­ments on the intent and impact of the piece’s self-destruc­tion have var­ied: many have com­plained that, far from the bold state­ment against the eco­nom­ics of mod­ern art it may have looked like (and many of Banksy’s fans may well have come to expect from his artis­tic per­sona), it could also be noth­ing more than a cyn­i­cal pub­lic­i­ty stunt to raise the spec­u­la­tive val­ue of his work fur­ther still. And a coun­ter­point, in the words of econ­o­mist Tyler Cowen, an expert on the eco­nom­ics of cul­ture in his own right: “Banksy is a genius.”

So how prop­er­ly to think about the Bal­loon Girl stunt, which has received no small amount of press but which remains some­thing of an unset­tled issue? Here to help clar­i­fy the mat­ter is a new and top­i­cal episode of The Art Assign­ment, John and Sarah Green’s web series pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.

As well as pro­vid­ing a brief primer on Banksy and the way his career has so far made its mark (often lit­er­al­ly) on the world, the eleven-minute video gets into how his build­ing a shred­der into a pic­ture frame and set­ting it off at the moment of sale fits into his body of work, art his­to­ry, and the inter­na­tion­al art scene as it is today.

“There are many ways a work of art comes into being, be it an addi­tive process, a sub­trac­tive process, one that must unfold in space and time, or one that’s imma­te­r­i­al and not exist­ing until the moment it’s per­formed and then dis­ap­pear­ing as soon as it’s over,” says Sarah Green. “Girl with Bal­loon was one art­work, and now it’s anoth­er that came into being through a pub­lic auc­tion but which still very much has a mate­r­i­al pres­ence, because the object was­n’t destroyed — it’s only half-shred­ded — and since it was can­vas going through, the remain­ing fringe is pret­ty sta­ble.” In a sense, then, even this self-destruc­t­ing art­work nev­er real­ly self-destruc­t­ed. So what, in artis­tic terms, actu­al­ly hap­pened to it? We may con­tin­ue argu­ing about it for years, but it will always come back to the shred­ding itself — an event reliv­able at any time in Banksy’s “direc­tor’s cut” video just above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Banksy Shreds His $1.4 Mil­lion Paint­ing at Auc­tion, Tak­ing a Tra­di­tion of Artists Destroy­ing Art to New Heights

When Robert Rauschen­berg Asked Willem De Koon­ing for One of His Paint­ings … So That He Could Erase It

Watch Dis­ma­land — The Offi­cial Unof­fi­cial Film, A Cin­e­mat­ic Jour­ney Through Banksy’s Apoc­a­lyp­tic Theme Park

Banksy Cre­ates a Tiny Repli­ca of The Great Sphinx Of Giza In Queens

The Art Assign­ment: Learn About Art & the Cre­ative Process in a New Web Series by John & Sarah Green

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • sf says:

    Great video. Of course the paint­ing went direct­ly from Banksy to Sotheby’s – with or with­out their knowl­edge. Just imag­ine a remote-con­trolled shred­der run­ning on bat­ter­ies that are 12 years old.

  • Bill W. says:

    I would have been more impressed if a cross-cut shred­der (like the oth­er 99.9% of shred­ders in the world) was used instead…

  • Stephen Gunther says:

    The val­ue dou­bled after the shred­ding.

    On anoth­er note. This could have been a paint­ing of my grand daugh­ter when a bal­loon got away from her. As it was drift­ing upwards she said piti­ful­ly, “The bal­loon does­n’t love me any more.”
    Now I could have spent thou­sands of dol­lars on a ana­lyst try­ing to fig­ure out exact­ly what she meant or I could have bought her a new bal­loon and tied it to her wrist.
    I went for the new bal­loon and she and I have had no fur­ther prob­lems with fick­le run­away bal­loons

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