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WHO IS BANKSY? The answer: Nobody knows the identity of this anonymous British graffiti artist/vandal/political activist/performance artist/vulgarian/satirist. Have I missed any more accurate descriptors?

Grin Reaper, by Banksy. Image by Szater.

I also think of him (I doubt Banksy is a woman) as a 21st-century Dadaist. Dada was an art movement of the European avant garde in the early 20th century. Dadaists were artistic anarchists, disgusted by World War I, who in reaction rejected the logic, reason, and aesthetics of their era. They replaced it with a world of anti-bourgeois irrationality.

Grand opening of the first Dada exhibition: International Dada Fair, Berlin, 1920. Note the floating effigy of the pig-headed German officer.

Not dissimilarly, Banksy’s message is also anti-war, anti-establishment, and anti-consumerism.

In August of 2004, Banksy distributed scads of spoof British £10 notes that replaced the Queen’s image with that of Princess Diana. Like other of his performance art, these were freely available, only to have collectors later setting a value of £200 per faux banknote.

In 2013, Banksy visited New York City with a fiberglass Ronald McDonald, his shoes being shined by a real Banksy associate dressed as a ragged, barefoot street person. The installation made its debut in Queens, and then moved each day to another McDonald’s around New York City.

Ronald McDonald keeping spiffy, fiberglass fabrication by Banksy accompanied by the artist’s real associate. Image by Tomas E. Gaston from the New York Post, October 16, 2013.

From August 21, 2015, through September 27, 2015, Banksy had Dismaland, a Bemusement Park, a large-scale exhibition lampooning Disneyland, erected in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England. Among its features were security guards being overly officious with families, a mushroom cloud nuclear display, and a pond depicting the military encountering immigrant-filled boats.

Dismaland, August-September 2015. Image from M. gave them to me, User: Lommes. See also a Banksy video on Dismaland.

Girl With Balloon is considered Banksy’s most famous stencil and one of his most sought-after pieces of art. It appeared in 2004–2005 as an unsigned and later signed print. According to MyArtBroker, “Its relatively low edition size contributes to its desirabiity—there are just 150 Girl With Balloon signed prints and 600 unsigned prints.”

Girl With Balloon, stencil print, by Banksy, 2004-2005.

The stencil first appeared as graffiti on the side of a bridge on the South Bank in London in 2002. Notes MyArtBroker, “The heart shape, which is the only spot of colour, stands for innocence, dreams, hope, and love. More than just being a child’s toy, the balloon here suggests fragility. The image of the young girl letting go of her balloon suggests that innocence can easily be lost.”

Fast forward to the evening of October 5, 2018, and Sotheby’s “Frieze Week” contemporary art sale in London. A Banksy Girl With Balloon had just sold for £1.042 million ($1.4 million).

A video is worth considerably more than a thousand words. See CNN Style’s reporting of what happened immediately after the auctioneer’s gavel struck.

Image from The Guardian, October 8, 2018, credited to Reuters.

A shredder inside the picture frame whirred, the painting slid downward, and part of Girl With Balloon ended up in strips.

Later, Banksy, still retaining his anonymity, posted on Instantgram, “Going, going, gone.”

The Guardian, October 8, 2018, discussed “Why Putting £1m Through the Shredder is Banksy’s Greatest Work.”

Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Europe, said it best: “We’ve been Banksy’d.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. jlalbrecht64
    October 11, 2018

    I loved the attempted spin by art aficionados after the shredding that the print might be worth more now. Of course they will say that so that people won’t be scared away from paying exorbitant amounts for pieces that are then purposefully destroyed.

  2. Gordon Craig
    October 13, 2018

    Here, hear…and I love it that Banksy (whoever he or she is) put the pomposity and commodification of the “Art Game” in its place, though like the Borg, this too will be assimilated.

    I can’t tell you how many artists I know as friends, I count myself so fortunate, and they hardly make a dime, they do it because they have to, well, don’t we all?

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