The British street artist Banksy has audaciously pulled off one of his most spectacular pranks at Sotheby’s in London after selling his trademark pieces for a whopping $1.4 million.

“Girl With Balloon,” a 2006 spray paint on canvas, enigmatic and simple in equal measure was the last lot of Sotheby’s “Frieze Week” evening contemporary art sale. A competition between two telephone bidders ensued and it was hammered down by the auctioneer Oliver Barker for 1 million pounds, more than three times the estimated price of the piece.
The head of art investment at Sotheby’s with an air of disbelief said, “Then we heard an alarm go off, everyone turned around, and the picture had slipped through its frame. The painting, mounted on a wall close to a row of Sotheby’s staff members, had been shredded, or at least partially shredded, by a remote-control mechanism on the back of the frame.”

“We’ve been Banksy-ed,” was the utterance of horror commonly floating around in the hall.

In reference to a man possibly directed by the great Banksy himself to manoeuvre a remote control and timely initiate his master plan! Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Europe said at a news conference soon after the uproar and looks of disapproval. “I’ll be quite honest, we have not experienced this situation in the past, where a painting is spontaneously shredded upon achieving a record for the artist. I was not in on the ruse.” Sotheby’s has deemed it unethical and adhered to its policy of not naming the client whose $1.4 million purchase was destroyed. Correction: Seemingly destroyed. International auction houses do not divulge the identities of their buyers unless the person requests it. But Sotheby’s said in a statement on Saturday:

“The successful bidder was a private collector, bidding through a Sotheby’s staff member on the phone.” Because that’s what rich people do, they are too bourgeoisie to show up…

Meanwhile soon after his conniving stunt, Banksy posted a video on his Instagram account, cleverly recording the confusion at Sotheby’s auction, following a sequence showing how he had built a massive but hidden shredder inside a gilt-wood picture frame. “A few years ago I secretly built a shredder into a painting. In case it was ever put up for auction.”
Suspicious minds and baffled art connoisseurs wondered whether Sotheby’s was completely taken by surprise. The frame would have had to be pretty heavy and thick for its size, something a seasoned art handler should have noticed. Detailed condition reports are routinely requested by the would-be buyers of high-value artworks. Seems very unlikely that the people at Sotheby’s were not kept in the loop. They were, however, grateful that it was the last piece put up for sale!

“If it had been offered earlier in the sale, it would have caused disruption and sellers would have complained about that, and Sotheby’s let a man with a bag into the building. They must have known.”

banksy girl with the red baloon
The infamous painting

Banksy seems to be an ironic name for such a politically subversive artist. The shredded “Girl With Balloon” might eventually also prove a lucrative investment. Because money needs to be sufficiently extricated from every last drop of art!

Banksy pronounced the painting “going, going, gone” on his Instagram account, quoting Picasso: “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.” As the artwork shredded itself, a seemingly unperturbed Mr Barker, the auctioneer and Sotheby’s European chairman, said, “It’s a brilliant Banksy moment, this. You couldn’t make it up, could you?” It was an unexpected finale — at least to those in the room — to a $90 million auction in which “Propped,” a monumental 1992 canvas of a female nude by the Scottish painter Jenny Saville, sold for £9.5 million, or about $12.4 million, setting an auction high for an artwork by a living female artist. The painting was neatly shredded and could easily be backed on another canvas by a competent conservator.”

Thanks to the publicity stunt the painting is now regarded as more lucrative than ever before. Contrary to the plans of this self-confessed anarchist!


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