The British artist Banksy managed to pull off what many are calling one of the most daring and audacious pranks in the art world as one of his paintings self-destructed moments after it was sold for $1.4 million at auction. The work, Girl With Balloon, obtained a winning bid of 860,000 pounds, which came out to 1.042 million pounds once the buyer’s premium is taken into account. That was more than three times the estimate and a record.
Then those who were at the Friday night auction suddenly heard an alarm go off. “Everyone turned round, and the picture had slipped through its frame,” Morgan Long, the head of art investment at the London-based advisory firm the Fine Art Group, said. The painting passed through a shredder that had been installed in the frame and by the time it was carried out, most of the work was hanging in strips from the bottom of the frame. “We’ve been Banksy-ed,” Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Europe, said at a news conference afterward. “We have not experienced this situation in the past, where a painting is spontaneously shredded upon achieving a record for the artist.”
Banksy posted a video on Instagram Saturday showing how he built a shredder into the painting “in case it was ever put out for auction.” Although Banksy has previously expressed disdain for the art market, his actions may have actually increased the value of the work. It is normal for an auction house not to expect a buyer to go through with a purchase if the work was damaged somehow. But in this case, experts speculated the painting could now be even more valuable “given its status as the subject of one of the greatest pranks to have been played on the art market,” notes the Financial Times.
Pierre Koukjian, an artist who was at the auction, told the Associated Press the buyer was “very lucky” to own the now-historic piece. He said the prank was “a turning point in the history of contemporary and conceptual art.” Koukjian, who has met Banksy, said he thought he caught a glimpse of the artist as confusion reigned at the auction about what happened. Some said they saw security escort a man out of the building.
The website MyArtBroker.com, which resells Banksy pieces, agreed the piece had suddenly become much more valuable after the prank. “This is now part of art history in its shredded state and we’d estimate Banksy has added at a minimum 50% to its value, possibly as high as being worth £2m plus,” the website said in a statement.
So far the auction house has not revealed much information about what will happen next. “The successful bidder was a private collector, bidding through a Sotheby’s staff member on the phone. We are currently in discussions about next steps,” Sotheby’s said in a statement without identifying the buyer.
Some, however, have their suspicions that Sotheby’s may have actually known this was going to happen. The New York Times explains:
Suspicious minds wondered whether Sotheby’s was completely taken by surprise. Anyone in the auction house who handled the painting would have surely noticed a mechanism on the back of the frame.
Unusually, this relatively small Banksy had been hung on a wall, rather than placed by porters on a podium for the moment of sale. And the artwork was also the last lot in the auction.
Support our journalism
Help us continue covering the news and issues important to you—and get ad-free podcasts and bonus segments, members-only content, and other great benefits.Join Slate Plus