When Banksy’s Painting Self-Destructed
Gagosian’s Sarah Hoover offers her candidate for the art world’s most extra moment in 2018.
Photograph by Jack Taylor for Getty Images.
Banksy’s painting that self-destructed after selling for $1.4 million [at Sotheby’s] is the most extra possible moment in the history of art. It was crazy. Besides when Damien Hirst in 2007 sold everything at auction, nothing else compares.
I was actually at Gagosian London when it happened. My colleagues who work in London have their London network of friends, some of whom were sitting at the auction. They were all texting and WhatsApping and I was like, “What is everyone doing?” They told me what was going on, and I thought it didn’t make sense. And then I looked at Twitter. My immediate reaction was that it was very clearly a PR stunt. I don’t know if the auction house was involved, but there was some degree of planning.
I do think it’s funny, but I also think it dumbs down something that’s very serious. Auctions most directly impact the lives of very rich people, so it’s a little silly to even care about them that much. The art market not only affects collectors, but all sorts of artists. I think there are fewer working living artists than there are major league baseball pitchers. It’s a very statistically small number of people.
And I think artists are really important because they’re some of the biggest proponents for social change, and historically have been pivotal in social justice movements. It’s easy to write something like this off as silly, but I don’t actually think that’s the case [here].It’s a shame to me when it becomes spectacle because then people take it less seriously. It’s just so crazy that that could even happen—what a place of privilege you have to be in to literally destroy your work publicly as it’s being sold, and then [it’s] worth more afterwards. Only a white dude could get away with that kind of thing. I think it really defines a lot of what turns people off about the art world.
It feels like we’re at the end of days with everything happening in the world. [We’re] making decisions that will impact the rest of the future of our species every day, and the leader of the free world is not on our side. And, of course, anonymous graffiti artists are making self-destructing works that shred themselves in public. I feel like this one of those times where you look back and it’s a Marie Antoinette moment. Bansky is like if Marie Antoinette was stoned and was like, “You know what, let’s make art and then let’s fuck it up in public.” And everyone laughs.
But is that art? Is that funny? I’m not sure of the answer to either of those things.