Bristol is a great city which in recent years has become somewhat of a cultural mecca for modern music and art. On my way back to my country retreat I pass this amusing Banksy mural which is across from the Bristol Children’s Hospital.
Banksy has become something of a cult hero though his cult status is somewhat behind him as his work has reached the heady heights of Sotheby’s/Christie’s prices for modern art. His murals are witty but not exactly technically demanding and yet, the queues for his Bristol exhibition in 2009 were unprecedented. Part of his appeal must be his “scarlet pimpernel” approach of maintaining anonymity. Who is Banksy?
Well if you have a spare $1,000,000 you can discover the true identity of Banksy which is currently being offered for sale on eBay. According to the seller,
If you win this auction I will mail you a piece of paper revealing the true identity of “Banksy”.
Currently there are 38 bids.
I wanted to blog this story because it raises so many interesting issues about authenticity and art. For many, possessing art is a status exercise – a public display of wealth signaling success to others. But there is also an essential element to art – the idea that there is some property that makes an original irreplaceable. Paul Bloom wrote about this in his book, “How Pleasure Works” and of course, I developed the idea in the context of sacred objects and repugnant items.
However, I have to accept that the essentialist stance towards Banksy art is somewhat of a stretch. His murals are spray-painted templates that could be easily produced and duplicated. That’s not to say that they are not clever and ingenious. It’s just that you don’t get the impression that his essence is in the work in the same way that seeing a Van Gogh in reality is an awe-inspiring experience. This is compounded by Banksy’s anonymity. Also, the fact that eBay insists that information is not enough and that a tangible piece of paper qualifies as a commodity for auction is also ironic.
I don’t know who Banksy is but I am reliably told that he has red hair. You can make your own GinGer jokes in the comments.
UPDATE: Just checked back to discover that eBay have removed the auction… oh well.