Last October, an anonymous collector paid over one million pounds for a half a stencil drawing by Banksy. The complete work was originally Girl with Balloon, one of the mysterious street artist’s most famous works. But the second it was sold at auction, it passed through a shredder hidden in the frame! The auction house Sotheby’s gave the buyer the option to back out. She did not, claiming that its value will have significantly increased. “I was at first shocked, but gradually I began to realise that I would end up with my own piece of art history,” she said. 

406 But is it art getty

the urinal

So how can half an artwork be worth more than a whole one? We can trace the answer back to Marcel Duchamp. In 1917, this French-American artist submitted a urinal, signed with the pseudonym R. Mutt and titled Fountain, to an art salon in New York. It was rejected because it was not considered a work of art – but it started a debate. An anonymous editorial claimed that whether Mutt made the ‘fountain’ or not was of no importance. The really significant thing was that, “He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life [and] created a new thought for that object.” 


Duchamp’s “thought” inspired movements among artists fed up by the dominant opinions of a few influential critics. The 1960s conceptual art movement, for example, was based on the idea that the concept behind a work is more important than the object itself. Today, the concept vs. craft debate goes on and in the process, as Banksy has shown, new questions are being asked about art. For if art can be an idea, then how can we judge whether works are really worth the price tag placed on them?