In 2018, a Banksy painting “Girl with Balloon” was sold for $1.4 million at an auction in London held by Sotheby’s, one of the world’s most respected art auction companies. But it was not the price that made this painting special and worth mentioning on the news.
WHO IS BANKSY? #
First, let’s talk about the artist. Banksy is a UK-based street artist and political activist who prefers to keep his identity a secret. His works often contain environmental and anti-war messages. He expresses his thoughts and emotions with ironic, cynical, and critical language.
“GIRL WITH BALLOON” #
The painting depicts a little girl reaching for a flying red heart-shaped balloon. Like many of Banksy’s other works, the meaning is left to the viewer. Is the girl reaching for the balloon that escaped from her hand which could be a representation of a normal childhood? Or did she let the balloon slip away which could be a metaphor for the loss of childhood innocence? The answers to these two questions open the door to different meanings. This piece that was sold at the auction in 2018, was first made on a bridge in London in 2002. And in the corner of the wall, there is a quote saying, “There is always hope.”. This expression made me think that the piece is trying to ask us the second question which is about the loss of childhood innocence.
Banksy’s works generally consist of graffiti on the walls. And because it is often illegal, the work he made at night is usually deleted the next morning. So that’s the reason we can see the same illustration can be seen in different places. In other words, Banksy’s works are self-destructing, to begin with. And this brings us to what makes “Girl with Balloon” so special.
When the art piece is declared to be sold at auction and the mallet hit the table, the painting began to disintegrate itself. As people applauded the price at which the work was sold, an alarm sounded and the piece was divided into small strips leaving only the heart-shaped balloon, thanks to a mechanism the artist placed inside the painting beforehand. Thus, Banksy did not only create the painting, but he also turned its sale into a work of art too.
BUT WHY? #
Why did Banksy do such a thing? Was it because he wanted to criticize the absurdly high prices in the art market in a “trolling” way or was it just an organized PR stunt? Many experts think that both reasons played a role in this incident.
As if to prove Picasso’s statement “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”, Banksy partially destroyed his painting and made history as creating “the first work of art created live during an auction.” And that’s why it has a new name: “Love is in the Bin.” So, it can be said that this was quite successful in terms of PR.
And if it was also intended to criticize the astonishing prices in the art market, “Girl with Balloon” which was sold for $1.4 million in 2018, was sold for $25.4 million in 2021… ironic, right?
WHY WAS THE HEART LEFT? #
Banksy giving the message of hope and solidarity in a statement he made on his website in 2014 to the people who had to leave their homes due to the events in Syria and in 2018 destroying the Girl with Balloon in such a way that there is only left the heart-shaped balloon, made me interpret these two things together as follows: There used to be children who were sad because they lost their balloons, but now children are dying because of the wars and only their dreams are remained. Of course, that’s just one point of view about this piece. There are so many other opinions wandering on the internet. But the fact that the heart-shaped balloon is not being destroyed in the auction is perhaps a sign that there is still hope. Just as it was written on the street where the piece was first made.
To conclude, I think Banksy is a brilliant and unique artist who doesn’t hold back when he got something to say. And I think it would be so much better if the “Girl with Balloon” lost its value in monetary terms so that Banksy could teach a lesson to the ultra-wealthy trophy-hunters in the art market. But ironically-and sadly- it increased its value enormously.
So, I would like to end my article by quoting the writer Fran Leibowitz who defines this unfortunate state of our world.
“If you go to an auction, outcomes to Picasso, dead silence. Once the hammer comes down on the price, applause! So… we live in a world where they applaud the price but not the Picasso.”