Self-shredder: Banksy’s ‘Love is in the Bin’

Katie-Mia Diamandi 25 October 2021
Image credit: Creative Commons

Last week, Banksy once again shocked the artistic world with a self-destructing artwork. The piece ‘Love is in the Bin’ originally sold three years ago at Sotheby’s for £1.1 million. Immediately after its auction, the canvas began to shred itself, and since this open defiance of commercial art, the piece has increased in price to £18.6 million.

When I picked up my phone to check the constant vibrations of the news app aggressively informing me of this seemingly outrageous feat in the auctioning world, I was struck by the controversy of the situation. The piece is a physical manifestation of a rejection of the commerciality of such high-profile artworks, yet the value of the artwork increased incredibly as a result of this statement. This made me question societal perception of artwork – do we actually like artworks or do we trust the fame of the artist to validate the quality of a piece?

The shredder, hidden inside the frame of the piece, was in fact created to shred the entire canvas. However, Banksy released a video in 2018 which suggested it malfunctioned and only shredded half of the piece. This malfunction most probably increased the price of the artwork further, as a piece which can be displayed as opposed to the slivered remains of a destructed canvas.

Within the art world, as daring and contemporary as a piece may be, there is often a ladder to climb; many artists have an agent who ensures their work is displayed at various galleries and coordinates their exhibitions. While many contemporary artists use social media platforms like Instagram as a virtual gallery space to exhibit their work, there is an air of traditionalism in the field. Banksy completely defies this and rejects all conventions, satirically undermining the concept that artwork should be preserved and protected at all costs. We as viewers assume that there is intense emotional attachment between an artist and their work, yet Banksy detaches himself from the work and allows it to serve a wider purpose of a symbol of rejection of these traditions.

The very nature of Banksy’s works, as an artist who originally began his work as a free-hand graffiti artist, reject the concept of art as a painting or sculpture. He essentially brought the world of street art to the forefront of critical scrutiny. He ultimately established graffiti as an art form to be appreciated by proving to his closed-minded viewers that street art is not simply mindless vandalisation, but pieces of artwork in the most traditional sense with important statements to make about contemporary society.

The piece ‘Love is in the Bin’ should be viewed not as a destroyed piece of artwork, but instead a new artwork created by an unexpected element of performance artwork. The work itself almost becomes a quintessential example of anti-art. Anti-art is a movement that rejects prior definitions of art and questions art in general. This piece exemplifies this. By shocking the audience at Sotheby’s in the original auction, Banksy conforms to this anti-art stereotype and spurs a worldwide appreciation of the unconventional. In contemporary society, art may be perceived as somewhat inaccessible, especially pieces bought at auction on a regular basis without public knowledge. This piece shocked the world, grasping the attention of newspapers worldwide and thus allowing the public to easily access the events that had occurred at such an exclusive audience within one of the most renowned auction houses in the world.

Therefore, whilst this artwork indeed sold for an obscene price, Banksy’s personal record, at its roots the piece remains true to the anti-art movement. The fact that the artist was willing to destroy his artwork in the first instance is indicative of the true intentions of the piece. As an artist who began his journey as a creative using the urban fabric of Bristol as his canvas, rather literally ‘painting the town red’. While some may view his shredded artwork as a destruction of a fine artwork, the new piece created by this action is in fact arguably more special. ‘Love in the Bin’ serves a larger purpose of an exemplar of the lengths to which an artist must go to to prove to the aristocratic who believe in this background sense of traditionalism that art that is untraditional is just as relevant in the context of twenty-first century society.