The auctioneer slammed his gavel, ending a 2018 bidding war at Sotheby’s in London. For $1.4 million, someone had bought one of street artist Banksy’s most iconic works: a silhouetted girl reaching for a red, heart-shaped balloon as it floats away.
Right then, the painting started beeping inside the packed auction house, and a secret shredder Banksy had built into the bottom of the picture frame whirred to life. Onlookers watched — eyes widening, mouths dropping — as “Girl With Balloon” slid down into its blades, slicing the bottom half of the canvas into dangling strips.
“The urge to destroy is also a creative urge,” Banksy wrote, quoting Pablo Picasso, in an Instagram post after the event.
Art prankster Banksy shredded a framed canvas at a London auction on Oct. 5, 2018. Moments before, the artwork sold for $1.4 million. (Reuters)
On Thursday, three years after Banksy’s act of destructive creation, the anonymous buyer put up for auction “Girl With Balloon,” or rather, its successor — the retitled “Love Is in the Bin.” After nine bidders battled for 10 minutes, the semi-shredded artwork sold for $25.4 million. That’s more than three times the auction house’s top estimate going into Thursday’s auction and more than 18 times what the spray-paint-on-canvas creation sold for in 2018 when it was intact.
“It has been a whirlwind to follow the journey of this now legendary piece and to have it back in our midst, offering it tonight in the very room it was created by the artist,” said Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s chairman of modern and contemporary art.
The prank was “a brilliant comment on the art market,” London art dealer Acoris Andipa told the New York Times in 2018, adding that if he were the buyer, he would leave the painting in semi-shredded condition. “It‘s a part of art history.”
BBC News arts editor Will Gompertz called the stunt “brilliant in both conception and execution” in its indictment of the art world, one in which people aren’t disappointed that a piece of art was destroyed but concerned only with how that destruction has changed its value as an “asset.”
To highlight this, Gompertz said, Banksy staged “an attention-grabbing spectacle [the shredding] taking place within an attention-grabbing spectacle [the auction], which highlighted through dark satire how art has become an investment commodity to be auctioned off to ultra-wealthy trophy-hunters.”
A Consideration of Time, Space, Relativity, Meaning and Absurdity (Yep, All of It)
DZIGAN: Professor Einstein said, “In the world, there is time. And just as there is time, there is another thing: space. Space and time, time and space. And these two things,” he said, “are relative.”
Do you know what “relative” means?
SHUMACHER: Sigh. Nu? The point? Continue.
DZIGAN: There is no person these days who doesn’t know what “relative” means. I will explain it to you with an analogy and soon you will also know. Relativity is like this: If you have seven hairs on your head, it’s very few but if you have seven hairs in your milk, it’s very many.
In the 1870s, Leo Tolstoy became depressed about life’s futility. He had it all but so what? In “My Confession,” he wrote: “Sooner or later there will come diseases and death (they had come already) to my dear ones and to me, and there would be nothing left but stench and worms. All my affairs, no matter what they might be, would sooner or later be forgotten, and I myself should not exist. So why should I worry about these things?”
Life’s brevity bothered Tolstoy so much that he resolved to adopt religious faith to connect to the infinite afterlife, even though he considered religious belief “irrational” and “monstrous.” Was Tolstoy right? Is life so short as to make a mockery of people and their purposes and to render human life absurd?
In a famous 1971 paper, “The Absurd,” Thomas Nagel argues that life’s absurdity has nothing to do with its length. If a short life is absurd, he says, a longer life would be even more absurd: “Our lives are mere instants even on a geological time scale, let alone a cosmic one; we will all be dead any minute. But of course none of these evident facts can be what makes life absurd, if it is absurd. For suppose we lived forever; would not a life that is absurd if it lasts 70 years be infinitely absurd if it lasted through eternity?”
This line of reasoning has a nice ring to it but whether lengthening an absurd thing will relieve it of its absurdity depends on why the thing is absurd and how much you lengthen it. A longer life might be less absurd even if an infinite life would not be. A short poem that is absurd because it is written in gibberish would be even more absurd if it prattled on for longer. But, say I decided to wear a skirt so short it could be mistaken for a belt. On my way to teach my class, a colleague intercepts me:
“Your skirt,” she says, “is absurd.”
“Absurd? Why?” I ask.
“Because it is so short!” she replies.
“If a short skirt is absurd, a longer skirt would be even more absurd,” I retort.
Now who’s being absurd? The skirt is absurd because it is so short. A longer skirt would be less absurd. Why? Because it does not suffer from the feature that makes the short skirt absurd, namely, a ridiculously short length. The same goes for a one-hour hunger strike. The point of a hunger strike is to show that one feels so strongly about something that one is willing to suffer a lack of nourishment for a long time in order to make a point. If you only “starve” for an hour, you have not made your point. Your one-hour hunger strike is absurd because it is too short. If you lengthened it to one month or one year, you might be taken more seriously. If life is absurd because it’s short, it might be less absurd if it were suitably longer.
Absurdity occurs when things are so ill-fitting or ill-suited to their purpose or situation as to be ridiculous, like wearing a clown costume to a (non-circus) job interview or demanding that your dog tell you what time it is. Is the lifespan of a relatively healthy and well-preserved human, say somewhere between 75 and 85, so short as to render it absurd, ill-suited to reasonable human purposes?
Time, as we all knew before Einstein elaborated, is relative. It flies when we are having fun; it “creeps in this petty pace from day to day” when we are wracked with guilt. Five minutes is too short a time to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity but it’s just the right length of time for the Dzigan and Shumacher routine about it. Our perception of time is relative to space, yes, but also to purpose, to other spans of time, to task and probably to other things I have not thought of.
To assess whether human life is usually too short, consider human aims and purposes. People are commonly thought to have two central concerns: love and work. So much has been written about how little time there is to do both that we need not elaborate. Suffice it to say that when people ask me how I manage to be a philosopher, mother, teacher, wife, writer, etc., the answer is obvious: by doing everything badly. We could abandon love or abandon work, but giving up one fundamental human pursuit in order to have time for a better shot at the other leaves us with, at best, half a life. And even half a life is not really accessible to most of us — life is too short for work alone.
By the time we have an inkling about what sort of work we might enjoy and do well, most of us have little time to do it. By the time we figure anything out, we are already losing our minds.
Brothers and Sisters,
We danced in the sunlight all summer and stood in stunned awe by the autumn brilliance. But now, It’s Coming. Soon all the leaves will fly away. The season of the Gloaming, when the Irish black dog of depression can come shit on your doorstep, when the duskiness at 4PM can lead one to contemplating single malts or Baja beaches, when facing
another long winter challenges our fiction of being High Altitude Heros. But just at this juncture of seasons, of our lives, we pull down from a top shelf David Hinton’s Mountain Home, The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China.
Many to most of the poems, as was the aesthetic of that form, deal with this time of autumnal change and the reflection it offers to those who choose to wander in wilderness. A deep gasho to sensi Jerry Roberts for offering up a selection of these ancient poems as this time of The Gloaming ensues.
Roshi Edgar Boyles
Pale Winter Moonrise by Russell Chatham In Jackson Hole, the immutable muse for generations of visual artists has been the Tetons. In Big Sky, that landmark is Lone Peak and in Bozeman, the Bridgers. Just to the east, painter, writer, restaurateur, and incorrigibly-addicted angler Russell Chatham became legend for his association with a different topographical feature, Paradise Valley. We all know of Paradise Valley for the Yellowstone River that runs through it from Yellowstone National Park to Livingston and then angles to an eventual rendezvous with the Missouri.
A lot of folks also have treated themselves to a sojourn at Chico Hot Springs before moseying into Livingston where Chatham for decades was a social fixture and held court at his signature restaurant. Scores of residents throughout Greater Yellowstone own original Chatham oils and high-end lithographs, displaying them next to priceless works by French Impressionists and treasured western artists like Bierstadt, Moran, Rungius and Catlin. Some of the notable private collectors in the region and beyond include Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Ted Turner, Jessica Lange, Margot Kidder, Jack Nicholson, Tom Brokaw, Jeff Bridges and Harrison Ford. Chatham’s artistic life force was his grandfather, the great California muralist Gottardo Piazzoni (1872-1945). A few years ago, Chatham moved back to his childhood homeland in northern California and recommenced painting where his extraordinary career with fishing and standing behind the easel began. I once asked one of Chatham’s closest friends William Randolph Hearst III to interpret Chatham. “You must understand that ‘Russell The Personality’ is a wholly separate character from the life of Russell Chatham the painter, though at the same time they are inseparable. No matter what he does, his adventure with it becomes larger than life,” Hearst said. “As good a painter as he is,” Hearst added, “Russell’s an equally wonderful storyteller and devoted friend, an absolutely superb fisherman who might be among the best on the planet, an intrepid restaurant owner, gourmet cook, wine aficionado, writer, boutique book publisher and general roustabout.” If any contemporary landscape painter qualified as a genuine rock star in the northern Rockies, it was Chatham, now a late septuagenarian. Starting in the 1960s, he was among a group of artists who went to Paradise Valley to escape the rat race, to fish, and go about their own media adventures without being hassled. Those figures included Chatham, writers Jim Harrison, Tom McGuane, the late William Hjortsberg, Richard Brautigan, actors Peter Fonda, Jeff Bridges, Kidder, Warren Oates, Nicholson, Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, Sam Waterston, singer Jimmy Buffett, director Sam Peckinpah and others. Chatham’s style of painting landscapes, known for its fleeting, muted, tonal bands of horizontal color, summons up moods of introspection rather than blushes of superficial sanguine cheeriness. They evoke the feeling you get when you realize you are getting older and the sensation hits home when you take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror, thinking about the kind of life you’ve lead. When I asked Chatham to ponder that feeling, he shared this thought: “Early on, I was never concerned about having a career, so I didn’t have one. And now nothing could interest me less. But I think we all have a programmed tape running inside us, and most of mine is now stored on the right hand side of the cassette. I finally feel I know enough to paint what I could only dream about in my twenties. People say it’s time to slow down, relax, go fishing. Well, I took the first forty years of my life off and went fishing, and now my tape is telling me to finish what I was put on earth to do. Before, time didn’t matter. Now it does.” Given the times, he still feels compelled to act upon a conviction he stated earlier in his life about the role of artist: “The artist does not simply hold a mirror to society. If the world now is greedy, the artist must be generous. If there is war and hate, he must be peaceful and loving. If the world is insane, he must offer sanity, and if the world is becoming a void, he must fill it with his soul.” Chatham didn’t say it, but one could add that the artist’s challenge is really no different from the obligation of the viewer. If painting represents a near-religious experience for some, perhaps it’s not a bad thing to act on those kindly impulses. EDITOR’S NOTE: If it isn’t obvious, Chatham loves water. Here are a few of his interpretations of some classic Western rivers.
Winter On The South Fork Of Deep Creek, lithograph, by Russell Chatham
Summer Twilight, Colorado River, lithograph, by Russell Chatham
Winter Dawn On The South Platte River, lithograph, by Russell Chatham ~~~
PAIGE GREEN Russell Chatham at his studio in Marin County, California. ”I paint everything from memory,” he says. In what would be his final interview, the famed Marin County–based landscape painter Russell Chatham tells Alta publisher Will Hearst where he finds inspiration, what it’s like to work on commission, and why Gauguin brought him to tears.
UPDATE: It was with sadness that we learned Russell Chatham passed away on November 10, 2019. This was his final interview.
Landscapes are notoriously easy to paint but exceedingly difficult to paint well. For Russell Chatham, the challenge was impossible to resist. There was no other way. Chatham is the grandson of San Francisco muralist Gottardo Piazzoni, and before he turned 20, he had found his calling in painting nature.
In a career that has spanned half a century, Chatham became famous for capturing Montana’s rugged vistas and California’s golden hillsides through an approach that seems to combine a muted, idealized reality and the stuff of dreams. His collectors include Hollywood names like Jessica Lange, Jack Nicholson, and Robert Redford. Along the way, he was married three times, and made a fortune from his paintings, book publishing, and running a restaurant—only to lose it all. Chatham steadfastly believed in following one’s heart.
In what would be the artist’s final interview, Alta editor and publisher Will Hearst sat down with Chatham as he reflected on the difficulties he endured as a young painter and how he’s depended on the love and support of the women in his life. (Disclosure: Hearst is a collector of Chatham’s paintings.)
WILL HEARST:As a little boy, did you think, “I like painting” or “This is what I want to do with my life”?
RUSSELL CHATHAM:When I was eight or nine, it was clear painting was a big deal to me, and so I did it on my own, and all through school I stayed at it relentlessly…through my teen years and through my 20s.