Notorious street-artist Banksy of Bristol shocked auctioneers at Sotheby’s on Oct. 5 when his painting shredded after it was sold for $1.4 million. Banksy, whose identity remains unknown, rose to fame in the late 1990s when his artwork began appearing on walls and alleys throughout the United Kingdom. He is notorious for creating pieces of political satire and dystopian lands, always critiquing the capitalist society driven by commodity.
The shredding of Banksy’s coveted ‘Girl with Balloon’ painting not only created a viral phenomenon, but it also skyrocketed the value of the already $1.4 million piece. Such a shocking event brings greater awareness to Banksy’s ultimate idea: we are a consumer and commodity driven society.
Art is supposed to be a priceless expression of intimate emotions and issues, but now art has become subjected to a capitalist society in which money outweighs talent. Certain art pieces are able to sell for such a high price, not due to the meaning of the piece or the hours of labor, but because of the popularity of the artists. Auctioneers focus on the money rather than the message. In terms of owning a piece of Banksy’s work, do the bidders genuinely care about the work, or do they care about being able to say that they own one of Banksy’s pieces?
Since the beginning of Banksy’s public art career, the unknown artist has created work not meant to be auctioned, but rather meant to be enjoyed for free by the public. The shredding symbolizes the freedom that Banksy has with his art. His pieces are not confined to a small frame being sold for auction, rather his pieces ravish un-kept walls and alleyways. Banksy’s artwork not only displays political activism and global progress, but also highlights a sense of freedom and beauty in the graffiti sector of art. Ultimately, Banksy’s shredding his art is a priceless act that helps transcend the art community into an understanding that we cannot sacrifice message for materiality.
Similar to Banksy’s platform of actively critiquing societal norms through artwork is Chinese contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei. Weiwei creates satirical art pieces that criticize Chinese politics, particularly focusing on democracy and human rights. Weiwei has produced a variety of documentaries sharing intimate views of poverty-stricken city alleys and street ways, or focusing on a young Chinese citizen attempting to return to his home country, who was denied entrance of eight times. Each one of Weiwei’s pieces uniquely displays a controversial critique of Chinese society and government control. In connection to Banksy, Weiwei is an artist who focuses on political activism, rather than creating for commercial gain. Both artists shy away from auctions and consumer demand, as Banksy and Weiwei create to bring awareness toward disputed topics.
Banksy and Weiwei did not share their talent with the world for it to be confined to a frame, and sold for an generous price. Rather, these artists create their work to bring awareness towards pressing issues that are often neglected. Therefore, the art community should stop focusing on what to price the piece for, but rather take a step back and comprehend the message. Reflect on the meaning of the piece, not how much the artist is worth.