The auctioneer slammed his gavel, ending a 2018 bidding war at Sotheby’s in London. For $1.4 million, someone had bought one of street artist Banksy’s most iconic works: a silhouetted girl reaching for a red, heart-shaped balloon as it floats away.
Right then, the painting started beeping inside the packed auction house, and a secret shredder Banksy had built into the bottom of the picture frame whirred to life. Onlookers watched — eyes widening, mouths dropping — as “Girl With Balloon” slid down into its blades, slicing the bottom half of the canvas into dangling strips.
“The urge to destroy is also a creative urge,” Banksy wrote, quoting Pablo Picasso, in an Instagram post after the event.
Art prankster Banksy shredded a framed canvas at a London auction on Oct. 5, 2018. Moments before, the artwork sold for $1.4 million. (Reuters)
On Thursday, three years after Banksy’s act of destructive creation, the anonymous buyer put up for auction “Girl With Balloon,” or rather, its successor — the retitled “Love Is in the Bin.” After nine bidders battled for 10 minutes, the semi-shredded artwork sold for $25.4 million. That’s more than three times the auction house’s top estimate going into Thursday’s auction and more than 18 times what the spray-paint-on-canvas creation sold for in 2018 when it was intact.
“It has been a whirlwind to follow the journey of this now legendary piece and to have it back in our midst, offering it tonight in the very room it was created by the artist,” said Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s chairman of modern and contemporary art.
The prank was “a brilliant comment on the art market,” London art dealer Acoris Andipa told the New York Times in 2018, adding that if he were the buyer, he would leave the painting in semi-shredded condition. “It‘s a part of art history.”
BBC News arts editor Will Gompertz called the stunt “brilliant in both conception and execution” in its indictment of the art world, one in which people aren’t disappointed that a piece of art was destroyed but concerned only with how that destruction has changed its value as an “asset.”
To highlight this, Gompertz said, Banksy staged “an attention-grabbing spectacle [the shredding] taking place within an attention-grabbing spectacle [the auction], which highlighted through dark satire how art has become an investment commodity to be auctioned off to ultra-wealthy trophy-hunters.”