The legality of destroying the art you created, after it has sold (Banksy)

Last week, the Banksy art piece “Girl with Balloon” was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $1.4 million. As the auctioneer brought the hammer down on “Sold”, a shredder built into the frame of the painting came to lifeand the canvas slide at least part way through, coming out in strips. I’ve seen speculation that Banksy was in the room, and activated the shredder.

The woman that won the sale has now bought the “new” art for the same $1.4 million, a new title assigned to the work, and it’s being called a new work.

assuming this wasn’t planned between the artist, the gallery and the buyer, did Banksy have the right to do this? Let’s say that the shredder really was built into the frame before the art was ever sold, so the shredder could be called part of the art.

Banksy didn’t own the art, either before or after the auction.
Does it make a difference if the artist triggered the shredder at that moment? What if the shredder had been on a timer? Is there an expectation that when I buy art, it won’t self destruct, unless I’m told that is part of the package?

We had a thread, on this story, its over here:

Maybe you missed it.

Or maybe you didn’t like what was in the thread, and wanted to add some what ifs, buts, and so and sos.

This is a stunt. Banksy does stunts, that’s his art. This is art. I would never have expected this stunt to happen, but now, I’m going to be disappointed whenever Banksy art doesn’t self destruct.

Yoko Ono dd a piece where people were supposed to alter the piece on display. One guy did so and the cops busted him. Yoko Ono had to defend him, but its still went to trial, which the judge threw out. Its a stunt. Stunts are art.

Michelangelo painted his critic as one of the judges in hell, and painted his own image as a skinned saint. Stunts, in art, have a long provenance.

Frank Lloyd Wright would show up at one of his homes long after the homeowners had moved in, and start redecorating. Moving chairs and tables… One story is that he tore draperies off a window (one of those stunning arts and crafts leaded glass ones? Then I’m in agreement).

Did he have a right to do that? I’d say no. But did anyone have the balls to stop him?
As an artist, I’m conflicted. Ignoring the stunt aspect ('cause I ain’t no Banksy)… Would I harm a piece of my work after someone bought it legitimately? No, it’s theirs now. BUT, would I scream if they painted over it? Yes.
(Note: I’ve purposely never become good enough to sculpt classical Greek statuary for a shiek’s garden, just so no one will ever paint the genitalia in day-glo colors)

When it comes to the difference between what is expected and what is delivered, there will be some leeway when it comes to creative fields and experience goods. For example, a movie might make you think it’s about one thing while it’s actually about something completely different e.g.: Million Dollar Baby, Predator, Monty Python. Some leeway has to be given, otherwise, works will not be allowed to surprise you. The debate is about how and how much a type of creative work may be different than what is expected without running afoul of legal prohibitions which ordinarily apply.

In the specific case of Bansky, that’s par for the course. Paying 1.4M$ for a Bansky work is bullshit and he highlighted that. However, that may only have reinforced the type of commercial/status attraction which Banksy seems to oppose. He must have known that.

I always appreciated the “stunt” (if you insist on calling it that) in New York where some guy in a hoodie and sunglasses was selling “original signed Banksys” on the street for $60. Which were, of course, original signed Banksy canvases. He ended up selling about 7.

Or maybe they wanted to ask a more general question and not worry about the specifics of the Banksy case. Hence all the presuppositions.

Given those presuppositions, I cannot see how it would not be illegal, barring some sort of contract. It would still be destruction of property. It wouldn’t matter that you destroyed the property using a part of that property, any more than you could use, say, a stand that is part of a drum to destroy the drum head. Only the owner is allowed to destroy their own property.

Still, in the specific Banksy case, there is basically no way the company wasn’t in on it, and they likely would have covered themselves saying that they could withdraw the item for sale up until the point money changed hands. Or that the purchase was contingent on the winner of the auction inspecting the work and offering the money. As such, the painting would still their property and they could do what they wanted with it, including pulling a stunt with Banksy.

Thanks for the link, Arkcon. I did a title search on “Banksy”, so I missed that thread.

Architects may come, and architects may go…

What property was destroyed, please?

Destruction is, according to one definition, “to reduce (an object) to useless fragments” (my emphasis)

Given the value hasn’t changed, that clearly wasn’t the case here. It was a work of art before, it’s a work of art now. It’s still fit for the same purposes of aesthetic enjoyment, status symbolism, investment, etc.

So what, exactly, has been destroyed?

Yeah, a strong argument could be made that the artwork is more valuable now, as a result of the stunt and its infamy. If Banksy had really wanted to destroy it, he’d have used fire.

Remember the floppy disc that displayed a poem when you ran it - once - then self-destructed along with the book it came with? Do you recall anyone who bought one complaining?

That’s awesome. Right up there with Joshua Bell busking in the subway and hundreds of people walking by one of the best violin players in the world (and like two people who recognized him standing in rapt attention).

If the gallery described it in such a way that a buyer would reasonably expect they were buying a certain item in a certain condition then of course the buyer would have a case.

Consumer law applies even in an auction.

If the buyer was buying it to enjoy as a painting then the deliberate alteration of it after the purchase would be good enough reason for the contract between auction house and buyer to be null and void.
And that seems to be the case here. The buyer was under no obligation to complete the transaction but decided that Banksy’s (rather tiresome and heavy-handed) stunt meant they’d immediately made a profit.

Sounds like something out of an Ayn Rand novel, which I’m sure is exactly what the artist was going for…

There is plenty of art that I don’t understand or likely appreciate. That wouldn’t stop me from buying it, were I so inclined. It seems to me that the art did what the artist intended, although the buyer may not have understood. If the artist isn’t the one directly selling an item, and didn’t make fraudulent claims about the art’s characteristics, I would argue that a buyer’s misapprehension about the point of the art isn’t the artist’s fault.

In this case, the fact someone took an action based on the purchase might be putting a little weight on the side of offense, but considering the built-in nature of the device, I’d still come down on the side of OK to do. I’d agree the auction house would be liable to refund the money if the buyer wanted though, as a no-fault screwup penalty.

You consider the only value that a work of art has to be it’s price?:dubious: What a crass proposition.

The purchaser bought a work with a particular aesthetic quality. Changing it to a work of an entirely different aesthetic quality without permission of the owner certainly destroys the original work. If you scribbled graffiti on the Mona Lisa it would still be a work of art, but of an entirely different sensibility. The quibble about the precise definition of “destroyed” is irrelevant.

The buyer could probably sue since the artwork was altered after purchase. They would probably have to prove that the alteration caused a decrease in value though.

All of that holds for the self-destructing poem (for which, unlike the Banksy, there is no question it was indeed destroyed and drastically decreased in value afterward). The difference is that nothing was triggered by a third party, and (I presume) it was not a surprise? I honestly don’t remember.

Are you saying that Laszlo Toth was a man ahead of his time?

Pietà? I thought it said Pinata! - National Lampoon

I’m not saying they don’t have any case - I’m saying they can’t claim “destruction”. Only fraudulent sale.

Errm, did you see the words “aesthetic enjoyment” in my post, or not?

Firstly, I don’t think “particular aesthetic quality” is part of the bill of sale of any artwork.

Secondly, part of the “aesthetic quality” of a Banksy work, in particular, surely includes “possibly part of a stunt”. The potentiality of the destruction was there in a way it wouldn’t be in, say, a Vermeer.

It does no such thing. The shredder was always part of the work (assuming the video was genuine, of course).

That this wasn’t readily apparent is not, in and of itself, a change in the aesthetics of the whole package. It just means those looking only at what they *thought *the work was, were not seeing the whole picture, as it were. They though they were buying a finished work, when they were really buying a piece of performance art. It was, nonetheless, the same piece of art they viewed before the sale.

It’s not a quibble. It’s very much the issue. This is a Banksy, not an Old Master. The “sensibility” includes stunts, irreverence and disregard for authority, including the authority to say what constitutes “art”, “property” and “destroyed”.

And the difference between your example and this one, is that Leonardo didn’t build a moustache-scribbling arm into the frame of the* Mona Lisa*. Banksy built the shredder* into the artwork himself. It would be an entirely different matter if some random schmo took an Xacto to the piece.

*yes, yes, it might all be a trick, preshedded, the blades were flat, yadda, yadda…