Behind The Artwork – Banksy and Sotheby’s: art or marketing move?

Giulia Pacciardi · 2 years ago

Like everything that shakes media clamor, also Banksy – one of the most recognizable and well-known artists in the world – split the public and artistic opinion into two parties. There’s who thinks of him as an absolute genius but also who, from the dawn of his career, considers his art a well-crafted marketing strategy, a front that starts with his anonymous identity and ends with the stencils that appear on the walls of the entire world each time a political or economic matter gets hot.

His last performance staged during Sotheby’s auction last week, as it’s now renowned, got the controversy even more heated up.
After having sold a reproduction of his painting for 1,4 million dollars, the canvas suddenly self-destructed, leaving the audience in a state between shock and amusement.

Once again, the audience is split: there’s who wants to attribute to the gesture an attempt of revolt towards the art market and who, instead, gives for granted that everyone knew what was going to happen and that the painting’s value, once almost destroyed, would have raised in an exponential way.
News that, some days after the performance, was given as a certainty by Joey Syer, the co-founder of who has declared to have doubled the initial value of the artwork.

In a chaos of opinions, comments and theories that shout out to the genius, or the fake, we asked some artists and personalities of the world of art to share with us their ideas on the last act signed by the Bristol artist.

Domenico Romeo, Street Artist and Off-White’s Head Graphic Designer

Domenico Romeo | copia

“I have never particularly appreciated Banksy, even though I still consider him a pioneer of the street art world (?) – stencil art with a banal and insignificant message. Likewise, his decision of always acting anonymously got me thinking whether this was a real necessity or the legacy of a brilliant marketing operation.
Verifying the all police forces worldwide are nowadays in possession of the equipment necessary to monitor all our movements, remaining anonymous is basically impossible.
To the exclusion of all others, then, the marketing operation remains the most accredited theory.

The last performance at Sotheby’s is, in my view, a hustle worth of his author.
The umpteenth mass-market contradictory news.

Do we really want to believe that the auction house was not aware of the operation and that they didn’t ask themselves what was inside that big and funny looking frame?
What is the anti-gallery message thrown here, knowing that after the “cutting” of an artwork inside an auction, its value will immediately triplicate?
If he wanted to really destroy it launching a truly subversive message, he should have done it in a real, different way, making it explode or set fire.

But I don’t want to always play the villain and I want to argue in favor of the Bristol artist saying that today everything can be art. Even his brilliant banality, linked to an appropriate dose of marketing.”

2501, Street Artist

2501 | copia

“No one can do Banksy better than Banksy”.

RJ Rushmore, Writer and Curator

RJ Rushmore, Writer and Curator

“Banksy is a magician, so I haven’t spent much energy trying to ruin the fun and determine how the trick was done. Rather, I’m enjoying the result. Whether this stunt was a secret more than a decade in the making or planned last weekend, I think the performance was brilliant. Looking at the reactions online, there’s one thing that folks seem to forget: Banksy has always danced on that line between being a part of the art market and being apart from the art market. I love watching that dance. Banksy is not an idiot. He is very, very smart about these kinds of things, and he probably understands the art market better than most artists or art dealers. Is the performance a rejection of the art market? No. It’s a flirtation, a gentle teasing, a critique from the court jester. Like always.

Vlady, Multidisciplinary Artist

Vlady | copia

“It’s always easier to spot critic sparks on Banksy’s work, but it remains difficult to openly discuss about it without getting teared to pieces. His figure is already legendary, delivered to history; the matter can create apprehension, but his constant provocations are an invite to debate.
We’re fifteen years apart from the first operations on London streets and, meanwhile, everything has changed: yesterday no more than a student with a crew, today a powerful organization Ltd. The world the artist was pointing at, is where he belongs to today. We’re talking about a billionaire artist that rips off a canvas just sold for one million British pounds, almost in a sarcastic and critical way. Destruction is creation but creating something in the exact moment of the conclusion of an auction is a critical gesture.
We’re talking about Banksy’s usual rhetoric, sending anti-capitalist messages, which are very reassuring.
Banksy can’t resist participating at a party he detests, it would be more news if he wasn’t there. The edge between reality, fiction and joke of circumstances is subtle, not everyone gets it: the piss take is successful. He’s shooting a video in which a man with a hoodie (his usual one, probably bought from Primark for £9,90, stained of paint) is caught in the act of wrapping a frame whose blades – put horizontally – would never be able to cut. However, the miracle in the room, like for San Gennaro, happened. His success lays in letting these gestures go above his character. This is how, through illustrated visual messages, almost populistic, he became the myth we all know. We shall not, however, mistakenly judge Banksy only from an objective point of view; it’s not about what he did. It is where, when and how he did it. This applies to his whole career. The message is not the stencil: it’s the idea, the action, the global reaction. If it wasn’t so, he would have not become the only stencil artist known and loved also by profanes.”

JB Rock, Street Artist

JB Rock |

“What do I think about Banksy’s last expedient? I think he won.
Being 98% of his art research based on trying to be talked about, I’d say this time his surpassed himself big style.
It is enough to look at the number of followers he gained on Instagram, channel through which he communicates with the world. The account went from 1 million to almost 5 million dollars within a few hours.
It was a very successful move.
I suggest you read an article on the Post which dealt, successfully, with my same doubts, which I have manifested in the last days on my Instagram stories.
The concept is exactly the same, it is only expressed in a politer manner compared to my delirium, which got dirtier thanks to my Roman accent.”

Stefano S. Antonelli, Curator

Stefano Antonelli |


In the book Wall and Piece, published in 2005, Banksy writes: “if you want to say something and have people listen, then you have to wear a mask. If you want to be honest then you have to live a lie.” In other words, Bristol writer clearly declares: you will never know who I am and every truth I will say will be covered by a lie. These two concepts, at the same time, offer a horizon within which we can understand the artist’s work and an executive manifesto.

Bansky reduces to pieces one of his Girl with Balloon worth a million pounds during a Sotheby’s auction. Firstly, he accomplishes a public gesture for which he will later claim his authorship on his Instagram account, the same procedure scheme of a terroristic attack, then, he references a work by French artist Farewell “Bande de pub”, made in Paris in 2004

The artist uses communication means that are up to big brands standards but this isn’t a surprising fact, marketing owes a lot to the graffiti world. From over twenty years, the majority of graphic designers, creatives, and ad executives belong to the graffiti world and, thanks to their experience with the ethics and aesthetics of vandalism, they have withdrawn and re-elaborated some of the most innovative and efficient marketing techniques. It’s not marketing, it’s vandalism. Marketing and vandalism are equal to each other.

The mise-en-scene is the artwork itself and is represented in the video. The mise-en-scene is also at the origins of art’s contemporaneity, Marcel Duchamp utilizes the set-up as an executive procedure to the artwork presenting his ready made, whose strategy is to represent in a linear way what is represented. So, in the same way the urinal is only a urinal, the bike wheel is only a bike wheel, Banksy’s prank is just a prank, a joke, or more generically a game.

Is this the truth? The truth is that, as Carlo McCormic writes, the society – a collective condition aspiring to order in the desperate attempt to avoid entropy – is a mix of boundaries.

Even if we expect the artist to follow the general rules like everybody else, he’s agreed tacitly the license to move, challenge – if necessary – violate these countless boundaries.

Someone has to do it and, while for criminals, freaks and kids this is predictable, we prefer artists to do it. Then the best way to know boundaries is finding someone that pushed to break them.

Behind The Artwork – Banksy and Sotheby’s: art or marketing move?
Behind The Artwork – Banksy and Sotheby’s: art or marketing move?
Behind The Artwork – Banksy and Sotheby’s: art or marketing move?
1 · 13
2 · 13
3 · 13
4 · 13
5 · 13
6 · 13
7 · 13
8 · 13
9 · 13
10 · 13
11 · 13
12 · 13
13 · 13