The Sotheby’s Stillbirth

If you were lucky enough to miss it, let me fill you in:

Banksy was selling a print of one of his most famous graffitoes, of a girl letting go of a heart-shaped balloon, at auction at Sotheby’s earlier this week. Immediately after the painting was sold for around £1 million, the booby-trapped frame half-shredded the image inside it.

What must be emphasised is the fact that the picture was only half-shredded. It wasn’t destroyed outright but left to linger in between states, becoming a new art object in its stasis — not by some leap of the creative imagination, but by default.

There have been artworks of destruction — this sickeningly positive BBC article highlights Robert Rausenberg’s erasure of a drawing by de Kooning as a way that destruction creates a new work of art, for example — but Banksy hasn’t destroyed anything. Not really.

This half-destruction is merely a change of state, from painting to sculpture. In displaying the act of arrested destruction, he has seamlessly created a new work without trauma. Our BBC reporter may be right that this is similar to the likes of Duchamp on a technicality but this is also to remove its context — the most important fact of all: that the act of arrested destruction occurred in parallel to an arrested expenditure that only led to an immediate profit for the buyer.

This is no sur-Nietzschean sacrifice to the imperceptible god-king of capital. Banksy’s shredded painting is a stillbirth in stasis.

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