Banksy Had Inside Help

Howdy Pierce

Today’s discussion at Cardinal Peak involved Banksy’s latest stunt. In case you missed the news, a print of one of Banksy’s most famous street murals, “Girl With Balloon”, appeared to destroy itself only seconds after it was auctioned by Sotheby’s for a record sum of $1.4M.

Shortly after the destruction, Banksy posted an Instagram video in which he claims he built a shredder into the frame “a few years ago”, “in case it was ever put up for auction”. The art world is atwitter with deep discussions about how the stunt doubtlessly increased the value of the work, what this says about how and why we buy and sell art, and how Banksy is a genius. (“For once, an artist has genuinely pissed all over the system that reduces art to nothing but a commodity,” enthused The Guardian.)

At Cardinal Peak we don’t spend much time on the representational value of artwork. In fact, I’m afraid we don’t think too deeply about artwork at all, embarrassingly.

But an interesting Internet-of-Things device? We’re all over it.

And so I’m here to cast some doubt on this whole scheme.

Purportedly, the “Girl With Balloon” print was acquired directly from Banksy by a vendor in 2006, and has been in the vendor’s possession until this weekend’s auction. Assuming that nobody—not the vendor and not Sotheby’s—was in on the plan, the main technical problem would be the power requirements. You’d need a battery in the frame that would not only hold its charge for 12 years, but one that could power an RF system in receive-only mode that entire time, and, once triggered, would still have enough charge left to drive a mechanical shredder and emit an alarm. I’m not certain it’s possible to build that, and if it were, the battery would need to be quite large.

And, this heavy frame (containing a shredder and a large battery) would need to pass inspection by Sotheby’s experts.

Instead, as suggested in the New York Times, it seems far more likely that Sotheby’s was in on the stunt, especially given that they didn’t display the picture on an easel as they normally do, and they saved this particular artwork for last in their auction. With Sotheby’s help, this trick would be no problem: Just have a battery that can last for a few days and then drive the shredder.

By the way, if you’re looking to create a self-destructive artwork frame, please drop us a line—that would be the coolest project ever! Just don’t ask us to make it last for 12 years.

Screen grab from Banksy’s video, showing his installation of a shredder into a picture frame.

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