The British street artist Banksy pulled off one of his most spectacular pranks on Friday night, when one of his trademark paintings appeared to self-destruct at Sotheby’s in London after selling for $1.4 million at auction. The work, “Girl With Balloon,” a 2006 spray paint on canvas, was the last lot of Sotheby’s “Frieze Week” evening contemporary art sale. After competition between two telephone bidders, it was hammered down by the auctioneer Oliver Barker for 1 million pounds, more than three times the estimate and a new auction high for a work solely by the artist, according to Sotheby’s. “Then we heard an alarm go off,”
Morgan Long, the head of art investment at the London-based advisory firm Fine Art Group, who was sitting in the front row of the room, said in an interview on Saturday. “Everyone turned round, 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.
Video footage showed two men taking the painting away shortly after the sale, bits of the image hanging down from the bottom of the frame in strips.
The auction house was not immediately available for comment on the whereabouts of the painting’s remains, or how its value might have changed in light of its self-destruction.
“We’ve just been Banksy’ed”, Alex Branczik, senior director at Sotheby’s told the publication.
Banksy is renowned for his provocative and satirical street art, which is sometimes politically charged. As he keeps his identity hidden, there is much mystery surrounding the artist.
Branczik said, “he is arguably the greatest British street artist, and tonight we saw a little piece of Banksy genius”.
He added that he was “not in on the ruse”, although it is not clear whether other members of staff were.
According to the Financial Times, the sale of an artwork that is damaged before it leaves an auction house is usually cancelled.
But Branczik said: “You could argue that the work is now more valuable”.