A Banksy painting similar to the one that self-destructed. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty
In a trademark on-the-nose bit of anti-capitalist pranking, the street artist Banksy apparently destroyed one of his own iconic Girl with Balloon paintings when it shredded itself into ribbons immediately after being auctioned at Sotheby’s for the casual price of £860,000 ($1.1 million).
According to the Financial Times, the framed work, which was acquired by the auction house in 2006, “was shredded by a mechanism apparently hidden within the base of the frame, with most of the work emerging from the bottom in strips.”
“We’ve just been Banksy’ed,” said Alex Branczik, senior director at Sotheby’s, according to The Art Newspaper. “He is arguably the greatest British street artist, and tonight we saw a little piece of Banksy genius.”
Branczik said that he was not “in on the ruse,” and it’s unclear how the whole thing happened. One possibility is that Banksy himself triggered it from inside the auction—The Art Newspaper reported that “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.”
When an artwork is damaged before it leaves an auction house the sale normally ends up being canceled, according to the Financial Times. But Sotheby’s auctioneers are already discussing whether the shredding is actually a good thing. “You could argue that the work is now more valuable,” Branczik said. “It’s certainly the first piece to be spontaneously shredded as an auction ends.”
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