Banksy, the anonymous English street artist, is known for resisting the commercialisation of his art.
He is equally famous for audacious stunts, the most headline-grabbing being the live shredding of his Girl with Balloon at a Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale on October 5, proclaimed as a “surprise intervention” by the auctioneer.
An interesting issue is that the shredding took place after the hammer had fallen at £860,000, or £1.04m after commission (estimate: £200,000-300,000).
From a legal point of view, Banksy’s act was most likely a breach of contract – he agreed to sell a particular picture, the hammer came down, that picture was sold under contract and he then destroyed the work that was sold at auction.
So, could the ‘aggrieved buyer’ have sued? No point, as the shredded picture immediately went up in value, we are told, so the lucky purchaser would have had no claim worth pursuing and is not aggrieved at all.
The case proves that many and varied are the factors contributing to the value of contemporary art.
The shredded picture was retrospectively renamed Love is in the Bin by the artist, with the happy winning bidder declaring she now had “my own piece of art history”.
Cut out of locations
Banksy’s murals have frequently been cut out of their carefully chosen locations and sold at huge prices, often without his permission.
In 2013, Banksy’s No Ball Games was removed from its site in Tottenham, London, and put up for sale by events company Sincura Group.
Though the sale was for a local charity, one can understand Banksy’s objection to this. Certainly such an action would, from the artist’s point of view, be ‘derogatory treatment’ of his work – an infringement of his moral rights protected under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Responding to No Ball Games being put up for sale, Banksy’s authentication service, Pest Control, stated there were currently no Banksy works on sale. It added: “Pest Control is now the sole point of sale for new work by Banksy, of which there is currently something/nothing available.”
Perhaps the shredding of Girl with Balloon at Sotheby’s was Banksy’s attack on the establishment, showing that he can do it too. Perhaps equally it’s a matter of demonstrating control – the picture renamed after the shredding and sale at Sotheby’s has been granted certification by Pest Control.
Milton Silverman is senior commercial dispute resolution partner at Streathers Solicitors LLP, London.