How we all guffawed at Banksy’s jolly japes at Sotheby’s last week. On the face of it shredding a work of art in front of the person who had just spent £1m gaining it in auction was quite funny. An act of direct action against the stupidity of the art world. An act of subversion and spectacle that gets headlines around the world.
Except that the art world (the middle and upper class world) loved it. The darling of street art can do no wrong. He’s their street artist after all. Meanwhile the purchaser has just had value added to their purchase. No longer simply the work they intended to buy, it has been elevated into a performance. If they really don’t want it anymore they will find it has just increased significantly in value. The artwork isn’t damaged; it’s been enhanced by a clever commercial operator.
This isn’t street art. It’s taking the piss but not out of the art world. It’s taking the piss out of all of us. Art is a fucking joke where class divisions are glaring. When we have something of cultural value that they want, they appropriate it whilst barring us from any involvement other than gawping at the spectacle. Isn’t that basically the history of Banksy?
When I saw their auction stunt I was immediately reminded of the 1979 Doctor Who story City of Death. Set in Paris, the Doctor and team have stored the TARDIS in an art gallery where it is viewed by two art lovers, played by John Cleese and Eleanor Bron. The critics look at the police box and mull it over.
Cleese: “I think one of the most curious things about this piece is its wonderful afunctionality”.
Bron: “Yes, yes, I see what you mean. Divorced from its function and seen purely as a piece of art its structure of line and colour is curiously counterpointed by the redundant vestiges of its function.
Cleese: “Since it has no call to be here, the art lies in the fact that it is here”.
The Doctor et al then rush past, get inside and the police box disappears.
Bron: “Exquisite, absolutely exquisite”.
Yes, in 1979 Doctor Who joked about what Banksy would do in 2018. That’s time travel for you but it also shows just how outdated things can get before they even happen.
Banksy went on to say that the urge to destroy is also a creative urge and attributed the quote to Pablo Picasso. I wonder if he regularly gets Picasso and Bakunin mixed up. Picasso’s famous assertion that if God existed it would be necessary to destroy him for example. Or maybe Picasso said “liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality”. I wonder if it works the other way round? Oh well as Picasso might have said “bad artists copy. Good artists steal”.
The urge to destroy is one of my favourites. We can build things up the way we want but we absolutely have to destroy first. Revolutionary change is creative, wonderful and destructive. It’s not really what Banksy wants though I feel. Art with a capital A is a world most of us are only allowed to observe. In reality though art should be about making things and expressing ourselves. Making things functional and beautiful; making things with a political point. We do this in our DIY culture all the time. Art in our lives is about living well and appreciating our talents. It is for this reason that we are barred from Banksy’s Art world. They want us to equate making things with hard work as we live dysfunctional lives unable to afford the prettiest and best things. The Art world is a dynamic component of the capitalist system separating the worthy and elevating them above us.
Banksy hasn’t shown an urge to destroy; he’s shown an urge to make a spectacle and a huge amount of money. It’s the urge of satisfying his ego. It’s about as Thatcherite as the art world can get. Clever definitely but not exquisite.