Was Banksy at the evening sale at Sotheby’s on Friday night? That was the question on everyone’s lips when one of the Bristolian street artist’s paintings mysteriously self-destructed as the contemporary auction drew to a close.
Girl with a Balloon (2006) was the final lot of the night, and just as the canvas hammered at £953,829 ($1.25 million USD) —exactly the same figure as the artist’s previous auction record, achieved in 2008—an alarm was triggered inside the work of art. Onlookers turned just in time to see the canvas slip through its faux-gilt frame and be shredded into pieces.
“It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” said Alex Branczik, the auction
house’s head of contemporary art, Europe, immediately after the sale.
“He is arguably the greatest British street artist, and tonight we saw a
little piece of Banksy genius,” he said, adding that he was “not in on
the ruse”, although it is not clear whether other members of staff were.
Some commented on the unusually thick frame, which could have easily
concealed a shredding mechanism.
After a man dressed in black sporting sunglasses and a hat was seen
scuffling with security guards near the entrance to Sotheby’s shortly
after the incident, speculation mounted that the elusive artist had
himself pressed the button that destroyed the work. According to the
provenance, Girl with a Balloon was acquired directly from the artist in
“We are busy figuring out what this means in an auction context,”
Branczik said. “The shredding is now part of the integral art work. We
have not experienced a situation where a painting has spontaneously
shredded, upon achieving a record for the artist.”
One potential outcome, according to a spokeswoman, is that the
destroyed painting could be preserved as a document of the guerrilla
tactic. “You could argue that the work is now more valuable,” Branczik
said. “It’s certainly the first piece to be spontaneously shredded as an