Artists are incredibly emotional beings and it’s hardly surprising that destroying one’s work is practically part of the routine. However, in the new age of art performance, only separated from hooliganism by the artist’s self-proclaimed status, art destruction is an art in itself – Banksy’s “Girl with balloon” being the loudest, but not the only incident. So when did it all start?
At the age of 72, Michelangelo began work on The Deposition, which depicts Christ’s body being taken down from the cross known as is known as “Florentine Pietà”, but things didn’t go smoothly. His friend, historian Giorgio Vasari, said that Michelangelo complained of a material flaw in the marble that made construction near-impossible. Meanwhile, scholars now point to the possibility that something in the composition itself – perhaps Christ’s leg, thrown over the Virgin Mary’s lap, which could have been read as suggestive, led the sculptor to attack his piece with a hammer after 8 years of work. The work was saved by a church official and partially restored, but Christ’s missing left leg betrays Michelangelo’s violent outburst.
Monet, a pioneer of the French impressionist movement, painted around 250 “Water Lily” paintings over the last three decades of his life. Originally, however, there were more. Before an exhibition of the paintings in 1908, he destroyed a group of them, disappointed by their quality in comparison to “better” canvases. Some scholars report that around 15 of the paintings were trashed, others over 30.
Our favourite story in the long history of art destruction concerns American pop/conceptual artist Robert Rauschenberg. Early in his career, inspired by the work of Marcel Duchamp, he decided he wanted to test the boundaries of what could be deemed a work of art. Could a work of art be created, he wondered, through the act of erasure? He started out by rubbing out one of his own drawings. It didn’t work. He felt that the destruction of a not very important work by a then not very important artist didn’t really test his idea sufficiently. Rauschenberg decided the only thing to do was to destroy a significant work of art by a significant artist. And so, he gathered up the courage to show up at the studio of Willem de Kooning, a Dutch-American painter. De Kooning didn’t approve, but still provided a selection of his paintings to choose from, believing that young artists should be allowed to experiment.
Rauschenberg then took one of the master’s paintings away and tirelessly worked on the act of destruction, eventually erasing all visible traces of De Kooning’s image. He then took the now blank paper to Jasper Johns, his great friend and fellow artist and asked him to create a frame for the piece. Johns did as he was asked and produced a label which read:
‘ERASED de KOONING’ ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG, 1953
After Banksy has famously shredded his artwork during a Sotheby’s auction, and its price doubled, a new era began. Does harming or destroying work make it more expensive? Rumour has it, one Banksy collector has actually shredded his piece too, hoping it would gain value. But not everything is so straightforward. Unless you’re Banksy – in which case we’re totally thrilled that you’re reading our blog – we do not recommend shredding, cutting, painting over and adding to your existing collectibles! Instead, you can go to www.banksyshredder.art , chose any artwork your heart so dearly hates, and destroy it online, instantly, anonymously, and without any consequences. You’re welcome.