The top bid for the Banksy painting Girl With Balloon came in at $1.4 million in Sotheby's auction this weekend. Only, when the bid was delivered, the painting was definitely not in dozens of pieces. When the gavel came down, that changed, thanks to a remote control shredder built into the frame, which is now the subject of extensive online debate over how it got there, when, and why.
People are asking whether the high prices paid for Banksy's work prove the artist is hypocritical with regard to his (or her) supposed anti-capitalist views. But really, that line of thinking only evokes the feeling of a cat chasing its tail. Meanwhile, the unprecedented end to Friday night's auction in London leaves us with a much more interesting and pressing question:
Is the shredded painting more valuable now, or less?
I didn't expect that one (at first). One thing is clear. Banksy's artwork is no longer Banksy's art. What started on the street has graduated to what is now performance art as much as anything else. Collectors are still willing to pay a premium for the physical pieces, but the artist's widespread fame and cultural impact is much more so a result of what we can only call 'the experience of Banksy.'
Although art transcends economic paradigms, at this point, Banksy is not just a person, but a brand. In that sense, entrepreneurs can learn a great deal from the artist. You want to stand out. Don't just compete with the status quo--do something nobody's done before.
Nike is an example of a company who has pulled this off more than once. Remember that time they basically hijacked the Winter Olympics and used it as an ad campaign? Yes, a company like Nike has a lot of resources at its disposal. But you don't have to take over an international sporting competition to make an impact.
Art is the most subjective of all enterprises, and you may not find Banksy's work to be particularly inspirational. That doesn't mean you can't take a page or two from his book about the importance of differentiating your brand.