Moments after selling for $1.4 million at a Sotheby's auction in London, a painting titled “Girl with a Balloon” by the popular street artist who goes by the name Banksy, suddenly turned into tatters by way of a shredder he planted inside the picture's ornate gilded frame. A video posted on his Instagram account explains his action this way: “A few years ago I secretly built a shredder into a painting in case it was ever put up for auction.”

He answered for what he did, but he didn't answer why he did it.

If he didn't want art to be viewed as a marketable item, he's out of luck. According to the Associated Press, art market-watchers believe that the painting will be valued still higher in its tattered state. Welcome to the art world.

Self-destructing art is a copycat idea

Pierre Koukjian, an artist out of Geneva who had attended the auction, told the AP that the buyer of the torn-to-pieces painting is “very lucky” because the work represents “a turning point in the history of contemporary and conceptual art.

What he did is really shocking, in a good way. I think it will be historic and people will talk for a long time about.”

Not necessarily. Artists creating work that self-destructs is not new. For example, nearly a half a century ago in 1960, while sculptor Jean Tinguely's machine-looking “Homage to New York" was on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it partially destroyed itself. And his motive was long known: to satirize our industrial society's worship of material things.

Banksy conforms to early moderns

There was also Marcel Duchamp who sought to revolutionize art by attempting to destroy its mystique: “I want to get away from the physical aspect of painting. I'm more interested in ideas in art,” he told Calvin Tompkins, former art critic for the New Yorker magazine in his 1965 Book “The Bride and the Bachelor: The Heretical Courtship of Modern Art.”

In one famed example, Duchamp penciled a mustache and goatee on a postcard image of “Mona Lisa” and called it “Shaved.” He said he never intended to sell his work. “I want to get out of the monetarization of the art.” At least he told the world what he was trying to do.

Don't buy this

But Banksy doesn't say what he's trying to do. And that's OK. Even a complex idea can be understood with a single image. The meaning of a small child reaching for a red heart-shaped inflatable In “Girl with a Balloon” is anyone's guess. It has originally been spray-painted on the side of an east London building.

But by turning the framed canvas version into tatters after it sold for three times more than Sotheby's had estimated, Banksy clearly didn't want it thought of in terms of money.

In that sense, he's not an art world leader, but a Duchamp follower.

And if Pierre Koukjian is right and the shredded “Girl with a Balloon" will be viewed as historic and worth more than it was sold for, it will violate all that Duchamp stood for.

Don't miss our page on Facebook!
Click to read more