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Banksy’s stunt wasn’t even original – and why we should support ads on Sydney Opera House

16 October 2018

12:11 PM

16 October 2018

12:11 PM

It was announced last week that the woman who bought Banksy’s ‘Girl With Balloon’ will be going through with the purchase. And who could blame her? The prospect of owning a piece of ‘art history’, as she called it, is an enticing one to any investor, regardless of its condition.

The video documenting Banksy’s triumph has clocked over 12 million views since it was uploaded to his Instagram account, and one could certainly argue it highlights the disconnect between the intrinsic value of art and that ascribed to it by ever-changing tastes. But it would be wrong to give artistic credit for what is essentially a publicity stunt. Not least because it’s so unoriginal.

Does Banksy not know about Jean Tinguely’s ‘Study for an End of the World, No.2’ (1962), where giant, self-destructing towers caricatured the imminent threat of nuclear war? Or John Baldessari’s ‘Cremation Project’ (1970), in which his entire oeuvre was reduced to ashes in a bold renunciation of work he no longer felt was relevant (‘I really think this is my best piece to date’, he told a critic)?

Against the backdrop of such work, the live ‘creation’ of ‘Love is in the Bin’ at Sotheby’s reveals itself to be pure pastiche. A performance made all the more hackneyed by the misattributed quote that accompanies the Instagram video: ‘The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.’ Credited to Picasso, this cliché was in fact originally coined by Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin.


Another unseemly tryst between art and commerce developed last week at the Sydney Opera House. Protestors gathered to disrupt projections advertising the Everest horse race on its sails. And I understand their anger. I too would prefer this wonderful building wasn’t being used to plug a dangerously addictive pastime.

In an ideal world we could separate art from commercial enterprise. But we do not live in an ideal world, and for art to flourish an element of commercial enterprise is required. The opera house is an economic asset, used on Tuesday to create value that is ultimately fed through the Australian economy and back into the productions and concerts it houses.

As academic Dr Rohan Miller put it: ‘There are some occasions when the Opera House’s sails can and should be used for limited periods of time to stimulate parts of our economy… Beaming lights onto the Opera House is certainly more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than the fireworks regularly discharged in Sydney.’

Besides, do those who reel in disgust at the thought of these two industries in cahoots know of the symbiotic relationship that opera and gambling have shared since the 18th century?

Italian impresarios would provide cards, dice, roulette tables in the grand piano nobiles of their opera houses in the hope of supplementing the enormous cost of staging a performance. Even the composers were savvy enough to demand a cut of the profits – Gioachino Rossini being the most famous example. The fact that the Sydney Opera House was built partly with money generated from lottery tickets sales adds a further layer of complexity to the issue.

So while Banksy is crowned the prince of satire for supposedly puncturing the hypocrisies of the art market with a publicity stunt that will only profit Sotheby’s, himself and his reputation, the Sydney Opera House is lambasted by a public entirely ignorant of the vital role advertising plays in supporting it. Which act is doing more to secure the preservation of art?

Timmy Fisher is a musician, composer and writer


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