21 January 2016

Exit Through the Drink Shop

Art will eat itself, or possibly drink itself
Shaftesbury Avenue, London, January 21s, 2016
This is Banksy's The Drinker. Sitting at the top of Shaftesbury Avenue, the sculpture was a one-shot pun on The Thinker, with added traffic-cone headgear. Nearly twelve years ago someone came along with some lifting gear and stole it away, not for resale, but to hold it hostage in what was framed as a grand gesture against the commercialisation of art, but was really a personal grudge over Banksy refusing to sign someone's print.

A few weeks ago, the original thief brought the sculpture back, accompanied by a host of journalists, as part of their efforts to crowdsource the funds to make a film about their original theft.

Oh, and to prove that it's still a grand gesture about the commercialisation of art etc, etc, they added a toilet seat, and spray-painted over the piece to change "drinker" to "stinker". 

You can read the original story here, the best part of which for me was when the journalist contacted by the thief, sorry, "arto-political activist", asked their newspaper's art critic what was it all about:
I haven't got a clue what this means, so I ask the Guardian's art critic, Adrian Searle. "This is the sort of thing that really, really bad wannabe artists blurt out, as a sort of verbal smokescreen," he says. "The tone is telling - wounded, aggressive, hectoring, melodramatic, apocalyptic, with feeble stabs at humour. It is a waste of my 'primary processes' to try to get to the bottom of it, if it has one. In my view, AK47 are a few seminars short of an art-theory course. In any case, loads of art deals with time, and with the fact that art is a process and a journey as much as it is about objects which can be bought and sold. And who believes all this rot about 'timelessness' any more, anyway? Maybe they were hit on the head by one of those leaky rocks."
Gosh, we sure were snarky back in the Noughties, weren't we? If you want the backstory to the theft and return, you can read more here.

Reading the newspaper coverage is interesting, as at the time of the theft the thief, sorry, "arto-political activist", estimated The Drinker was worth £25,000, which all the papers seem to have taken as gospel. Coverage from when the piece was returned pegged it at £30,000, a solid return after 12 years you might think. However now that the piece has been vandalised, has the price altered? In addition, as the original piece was an act of vandalism, Banksy denied ownership of it to avoid and charges of criminal damage the could have arisen from it's creation. This is one reason why the thief, sorry, "arto-political activist", was able to hold on to it for so long, telling the police that they found a sculpture in the street, and the police replying that if no-one claimed ownership in three months then legally it was theirs to keep.

So it looks like a Banksy, was almost certainly made by Banksy but has since been publicly denied by Banksy, and it's been defaced by a "really, really bad wannabe artist", but does it have any worth at all now? How is a sense of worth beyond a simple measure of "person X is willing to stupidly pay Y to posses it" attributable to any piece of art, street or otherwise? Has this been transformed from art into historical curio, worth only what a collector is willing to pay for it because of its backstory, not for any artistic merit? Was there ever any artistic merit in it all, or was it only ever just a one-shot pun?

If you've seen Exit Through The Gift Shop, the whole thing looks to suspiciously like a big joke by the artist himself. Or maybe it's a bad copy of the film being made by someone who has watched it once too often?

I imagine that's all rather the point.

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