A great prank? A clever commentary on the state of the art world? Yes. Great art? No.
by Philippa Weaver, MFA Fine Art, Wimbledon
On 13 October 2018, Will Gompertz’s BBC review on Banksy’s shredded Love is in the Bin was trending top of the BBC website.
Gompertz believes Love is in the Bin “will come to be seen as one of the most significant artworks of the early 21st century.” Gompertz ends with the comment that Banksy is an artist to be rated, that “at least he is making art that penetrates the public consciousness; art that is in the world, not detached from it; art that raises questions that need an airing.” Gompertz compares and equates Love is in the Bin to Duchamp’s Fountain.
Banksy has produced a clever and original performance art piece in an original location. His prank has raised his profile and has provided publicity for Sotheby’s. He has created a piece of theatre that has caught the attention of the general public and has therefore raised the profile of fine art, reminding and exciting people about art.
The original painting, now it is shredded, is reputably worth more than the £860,000 paid on the 5th October. Banksy has created an ironic work that provides a comment on the value of fine art and attempts to criticize rampant commercialisation in the fine art world. As Gompertz says, “… highlighted through dark satire how art has become an investment commodity to be auctioned off to ultra-wealthy trophy-hunters.”
Love is in the Bin is a comment on the art world. But it is not a comment about any of the serious political and social issues that our world currently faces. In London we are lucky to be surrounded by artists who would consider themselves to be making “art that is in the world”, of it and about it. They produce work with an honesty and integrity that regularly astounds; artists who raise questions political and social that really do “need an airing”. Banksy has in the past produced such art. Love is in the Bin has, however, only aired a comment about the state of the art world. Commercialisation of art is not an important issue in the scheme of things. The irony of the piece is interesting but art begins to lose its meaning when it starts to comment on itself.
Gompertz’s comparison to Duchamp’s work is specious. Duchamp and his contemporaries were reviewing the art world post the hell of the first world war and then producing art that questioned the role of and need for art. Fountain was created to test social beliefs about what art could be. Duchamp, interviewed in 1964, said “I was drawing people’s attention to the fact that art is a mirage.”* Duchamp and his contemporaries created the Readymade, their art looked at the post war world and responded to it with originality and faced a storm of criticism from the establishment as a result.
In contrast, Love is in the Bin says nothing new; we already know that the auction house has changed the art world and art has become highly commercial. Also, Love is in the Bin has been embraced by the establishment and much admired by headlining journalists.
It is also interesting that Banksy chose to keep the piece intact, only half shredding it. It remains a single work of art that remains commercially viable. Duchamp, one feels, would have been more committed and shredded the entire piece and then collapsed the frame for good measure.
Banksy, the one-time political anarchist animal, has become a marketable prankster. He surely could not have shredded his picture without Sotheby’s knowledge and approval. Although Sotheby deny knowledge of the performance prior to it happening it is only logical that staff at Sotheby’s would have been in on the act (extra heavy picture frame, extra strong hanging equipment, routine x-ray procedure, authenticity process…). Banksy, has almost certainly produced a very clever prank with the full knowledge and involvement of the establishment, to great acclaim from the establishment. Duchamp would probably have been appalled although Gompertz feels that, “Duchamp would have loved it all.”
The prank has penetrated “public consciousness” because Sotheby’s has a worldwide PR list and tame international journalists. Banksy can make art that “penetrates the public consciousness” and headlines at the BBC because he is an integral part of the machine.
The reason we know about Love is in the Bin is because Banksy has marketed himself with a touch of genius. His PR skill is to be admired. As Gompertz comments, “contemporary art is not valued for its inherent aesthetic qualities (although that is how it is presented to us), it is valued pretty much solely on the basis of an artist’s reputation.” Gompertz admires the stunt as a poke of fun and a criticism of the commercial art world that views art as an asset. Unfortunately Banksy is the asset and he has increased his commercial value, and the commercial value of the piece, with this stunt and this negates the integrity of the work. Banksy’s criticism of the art world is questionable coming as it does from inside the art world it apparently criticises.
One can only think that the tough, uncompromising shortlist for the Turner Prize this year was too dry and complex (read “hard work”) for headline loving editors. No beds or golden buttocks to be seen anywhere; just hard hitting social and political commentary, stripped bare, and clearly “in the world”. Perhaps there was a need for a fine art story to reiterate and verify the media’s apparent need to portray fine art as a silly hobby for the uber-rich. Unfortunately Gompertz’s review compounds this view.
Love is in the Bin is a fun work of theatre and performance – a prank. It is also a sad reminder that sometimes art is only valued as an asset. However, please go and see the Turner shortlist this year for some really penetrating art, “art that raises questions that need an airing “, art that is truly “in the world”.
* Otto Hahn, ‘Entretien Marcel Duchamp’, Paris-Express, 23 July 1964, p.22. Taken from the TATE website https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573