An original Banksy art print has gone up in smoke, only to be replaced with a digital facsimile that was sold for an impressive $380,000 (£274,000). This is thought to be the first time a physical artwork has been replaced by a unique digital asset.
In a livestreamed video shared by BurntBanksy on Twitter, masked men were recorded setting fire to the 2006 ‘Morons’ print until it had been completely destroyed. A digital token representing the work and living on a blockchain was later sold through NFT (Non-Fungible Token) technology, which provides an online ledger of ownership.
“We view this burning event as an expression of art itself,” remarked a spokesman for Injective Protocol, the blockchain group that originally purchased the Banksy print for $95,000 (£68,000). “We specifically chose a Banksy piece since he has previously shredded one of his own artworks at an auction.”
Banksy’s shredding of his own work at a Sotheby’s auction in 2018 is also referenced in the video, where one of the participators wears the print of ‘Girl with Balloon’ on their t-shirt. In another twist, the ‘Morons’ print itself depicts a Christie’s auctioneer selling a framed image of the phrase: “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this.”
Speaking about the group’s motive behind destroying the print, Injective Protocol explained “if you were to have the NFT and the physical piece, the value would be primarily in the physical piece. By removing the physical piece from existence and only having the NFT… the value of the physical piece will then be moved onto the NFT.”
Digital art is not a new concept, having been around since the 1960s, but it has always been plagued with issues of provenance and copyright. Although it began as a popular format for selling internet memes, NFT is now booming into the mainstream.
“What we’re witnessing is a tipping point for digital art,” says Rob Anders, CEO of the streaming platform Niio, who believes the pandemic has fast-tracked the rise of digital consumption.
However, not everyone was impressed by the controversial sale. “It’s a total stunt, playing off the fact that these things are going for big money,” claimed Ossian Ward, author of ‘Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art’. “You can say anything is a work of art… but if you burn a Banksy and then want money for it, that ranks pretty low on the art scale for me.”