Peter Aspden opens his Pop Life column with this exegesis of a joke by Banksy. But he seems to forget another way to read the joke. Could it be that Banksy is addressing addressing artists–not collectors–and castigating them for believing that auction values are the real measure of art’s value? In this interpretation, artists too caught up in the market and status of selling are the “morons.”
It was, to those of a certain sensibility, a depressing nadir in the history of art: the day when Banksy, the Bristol-based graffiti artist, responded to a sale of his works at Sotheby’s by posting an image on his own website. It showed an auction room crowded with collectors bidding for a painting showing nothing but the words: “I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit”.
Needless to say, the image was turned into a print and sold at subsequent auctions. And why wouldn’t it? Here was the moment when the hyper-inflated contemporary art market finally turned in on itself; when the lines between the statement of the artist, the commodification of his work and the compliance of his audience became so irrevocably blurred that no one could make sense of it any more.
As a joke, Banksy’s satirical swipe was passably funny. But it was also complicated: who, exactly, was the swipe aimed against? Were the “morons” the collectors who were, before last year’s financial meltdown, making a killing in a rapidly rising market? Or an art establishment that, in its lust for novelty, seemed incapable of determining whether an artist’s motives were honest or cynical, or whether it simply didn’t matter any more?
Exhibition’s Look at Art and Money(Financial Times)