Banksy’s iconic “Girl with a Balloon” painting immediately self-destructed on Friday at a Sotheby’s auction after it was sold for the equivalent of $1.2 million. The painting made history as Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art, confirmed that it was the first time that an artwork “spontaneously shredded” at an auction. The artist is well-known for his elaborate pranks, but it appears as if he has taken it to the next level if he is indeed the prankster.
The Art Newspaper reports that “Girl with a Balloon” was the final lot for the night at the London auction. The painting was sold to a phone bidder for £953,829, exactly the same amount that it sold for at a previous 2008 auction, when the real excitement began. According to Hyper Allergic, Robert Casterline told the outlet what occurred as he was at the auction himself.
“[It] sold for over a million dollars and as we sat there…the painting started moving,” he said, and added that the painting’s frame, also made by Banksy, acted as a shredder and started to cut the canvas into strips. “[It was] all out confusion then complete excitement.”
Vice reports that the shredding mechanism was hidden within the base of the faux-gilt frame itself and that strips of the artwork emerged from the bottom end. Speculation is rife that the anonymous artist activated the self-destruct button himself, or at least had an agent there on his behalf.
After the painting was auctioned and it started self-destructing, pandemonium broke loose. The Art Newspaper noted that security guards were seen scuffling with a man shortly after the incident. The mysterious person was wearing black clothing, a hat, and sunglasses.
“It appears we just got Banksy-ed.
He is arguably the greatest British street artist, and tonight we saw a little piece of Banksy genius.
We are busy figuring out what this means in an auction context.
You could argue that the work is now more valuable.”
The elusive artist is a well-known commentator on the evils of capitalism and social injustice, and it seems as if he is making another statement about the art market that he reportedly hates. Banksy is fiercely protective of his identity, yet there is a huge demand for his provocative work.
Sotheby’s told the media that they had contacted the purchaser of “Girl with a Balloon,” who was surprised by the twist in events. According to Vice, the usual practice at an auction when a piece of art is damaged before leaving the venue is that the sale is canceled. However, there is now a discussion as to whether the artwork is now more valuable than prior to its demise.