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Robert Casterline’s photographs of the incident, including the work shredding itself and people trying to stop it. (images used with permission)

Art aside, you have to hand it to Banksy for his ability to have it both ways. The mysterious street artist and notorious prankster has long since affected a successful transition to auction house darling, all while maintaining his outsider credibility by ostensibly thumbing his nose at the established art market order. For example, in 2014, the artist used a proxy street vendor to sell original prints from a street stall at $60 each, which later went to auction for tens of thousands of pounds at Bonhams in London. More recently, of course, the artist raised headlines in October of last year over the destruction of an original “Girl With a Balloon” (2006) canvas that automatically went through a shredder secretly installed inside its frame, just moments after it sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $1 million. The stunt was exhorted alternately as a hoax (or avant-garde in action), leading to the artist issuing a clarifying statement that, again, enabled him to maintain both the sale of the work and an apparently legitimate desire to see it destroyed. Like a bird on a wire, this guy!

Ultimately the still-anonymous bidder decided to move forward with her purchase of the piece, now renamed “Love is in the Bin” (2018), and it has landed a long-term public showcase at the German art museum, Stuttgart Staatsgalerie, slated to begin on March 7. But of course, Banksy being Banksy, it would not do for the work to simply hang on the wall where anyone can see it! As reported by artnet News, the museum plans to continually move the location of the Banksy work throughout the Old Masters and Modern masterworks collection.

“Searching for Banksy, is this not what everybody is doing at the moment?” the museums told artnet News, in a statement impossible not to hear with Goldfinger-like intonation. No, Mr. Banksy … I expect you to pop up unexpectedly. 

“We want to ask for the relevance of the work in a long-time context, in contrast with the current hype of the art market,” a spokesperson for the museum said in an email to artnet News. “Are the ideas of Banksy strong enough to compete with key works of art history from Rembrandt to Duchamp and from Holbein to Picasso?”

The work’s public debut will actually take place at another German venue — Baden-Baden’s Frieder Burda Museum from February 5 through March 3, where it will be the subject of a talk titled “Can the strategies of the art market be torpedoed while adding to fuel to its fire?” This topic underscores the ultimate paradox of Banksy, which is his seemingly ineffable ability to reject the statutes of the art world, while still ultimately benefitting from them.

It seems best to let contemporary gallery-goers and future art historians contemplate how well Banksy stands up to the canon, but one suspects that, rather than the work itself, it is ultimately his capacity for contradictory notions and ambiguity that will earn this artist his footnote in history.

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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....