The Artful Shredder Strikes At Sotheby’s


If we now have to distinguish between true and fake art, in the same way as fake news, life is really beginning to feel like a lottery. It’s one thing having doubts about the validity of news items appearing on Facebook, but if you cannot trust Sotheby’s, then who can you trust? One thing’s for sure though, this post is not a fake – at least, I don’t think so.

Fakes are everywhere – from that Rolex you bought for a tenner on Camden High Street, to the last time you had sex with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or both. If Freud is right in saying that if a woman misses an orgasm once in her life, it screws the hell out of her rationality, the best way for you women to maintain your sanity whilst, at the same time, make us macho’s proud of ourselves, is to fake it. Don’t worry, most of us cannot tell the difference anyway and, if you do it good, you won’t either.

Enough said. This post is about art and, in particular, what happened here:




I just love the comment at the end, “…if you can get one of the technicians, quickly!” Yes, pronto, and preferably a technician who can draw a little girl, a red balloon, and a piece of string. That would surely calm the nerves of the poor punter who has paid 860,000 smackers for a work of art that has just been shredded. But his nerves don’t have to be calmed. The rarity of the incident and the fact that it was preconceived by its author, probably mean that although the new owner can hang the painting on his front door to keep the flies out, the painting has probably tripled in value. Well, that’s art for you. 

German philosopher Georg Hegel was right when he put art at the top of the tree of human endeavour, together with philosophy and religion. Philosophy has no practical use whatsoever, underscored by the fact that present-day philosophers have to write books and give lectures to earn a living, religion is – well – religion, and art is a subjective non-entity disguised as pseudo-psychology, thanks to a few experts who you cannot contradict because you fail to understand what they are going on about. Art is akin to religion – the human interpretation of abstract ideas – most of the time in the absence of the author.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love walking into a museum and admiring majestic paintings. I could stand for minutes on end, staring at a scene of the Battle of Trafalgar, not thinking about the thoughts traversing the mind of the artist, but imagining what it would have felt like to be trapped between two enemy vessels in the middle of an enraged ocean.

In the 1950’s, zoologist Desmond Morris presented a TV programme showing chimpanzees painting live. Some of the work was so good, that the paintings were exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art, in London. The way that modern art is becoming so abstract and incomprehensible, it is hard to say whether humans are becoming more like chimps in this matter, or vice-versa. Indeed, Salvatore Dali was so impressed by some of the paintings that he is quoted as saying, “The hand of the chimpanzee is quasihuman; the hand of Jackson Pollock is totally animal!” Whether that is a complement for the human artist or an insult for the chimpanzee, remains unclear.


We do have examples of so-called “experts” being completely fooled and taken for a ride, by paintings done by animals. A classic example of this is what happened in Sweden, in 1964. A group of journalists obtained a set of paintings done by a 4-year-old chimp, claiming that they were the work of French avant-garde artist Pierre Brassau. The paintings were acclaimed by various art critics, with one commenting that, “Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.” Well, let’s teach the chimp Swan Lake – that will really confuse the art critics.



I admit that I don’t understand modern art, and that I fail to appreciate its beauty and profound meaning. By “modern” I’m referring to the real modern stuff, and not earlier movements such as the impressionists. I suppose that my lack of understanding is largely due to the fact that most works do not show me something that I can identify with, like a landscape, human presence, or an historical fact. This renders me unsure of how I must react to what I see, and makes me quickly want to move on.

For Melissa Ho, curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, modern art is, “the cultural expression of the historical moment of modernity.” It is a form of art that has severed the grasp of academia, cutting itself loose from the hierarchy of genres.

Part of the triumph of modernism is overturning academic values. – Melissa Ho


Equivalent VIII 1966 Carl Andre born 1935 Purchased 1972

Modern art has overturned quite a few other things as well – especially what we have to put up with. It seems more and more that, in the name of art and freedom of expression, we must accept anything remotely sculptural or painted, as a work of art. Some of you may remember the outrage that occurred when a pile of bricks entered the London Tate Gallery, courtesy of Carl Andre. If you can come up with a profound psychological and cultural explanation concerning the importance of exhibiting 120 firebricks in a world-renowned art gallery, you have understood something that I have not. At the time, some argued that it was, indeed, the necessity that the Tate Gallery be at the forefront of modern art, that justified scratching a few floor boards with a pile of bricks.

The official psychological and cultural explanation is as follows,


Each of Andre’s Equivalent series consists of a rectangular arrangement of 120 firebricks. Although the shape of each sculpture is different, they all have the same height, mass and volume, and are therefore ‘equivalent’ to each other. Andre’s sculptures are often assembled using common industrial materials, which he arranges into a simple geometric pattern. His sculptures are always placed on the floor rather than on plinths. Not simply objects to look at, they become part of the environment, altering the viewer’s relationship to the surrounding space. – Gallery label, October 2016


The Trustees of the Tate have every right to spend a little on experimental art. I do not question their judgement. – Hugh Jenkins, Arts Minister, Daily Mail, 18 Feb 1976


The bricks became famous, and one of the best-known exhibits of the collection. I just wonder that if I had decided to leave a pile of bricks in the Tate Gallery, one cold November evening, would I have become famous, or got a hefty fine and suspended prison sentence. 

That’s the thing about art, it’s not what you do, but who you are and who you do it to. In the meantime, our duped punter at Sotheby’s has probably purchased a gem, courtesy of a shredding machine and a renowned artist. Let us just hope that he doesn’t decide to stick the pieces together again because that wouldn’t be art, that would be vandalism.