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Robert Casterline’s photographs of the incident, including the work shredding itself and people trying to stop it. (images used with permission)

A Banksy artwork “self-destructed” at a Friday night Sotheby’s auction in London.

“Girl with a Balloon” (2006) was the final lot of the evening sale at Sotheby’s and ended things off with an impressive final price of £953,829 (~$1,251,423), or £1,042,000 with buyer’s premium (~$1,367,104). Maybe people should’ve suspected something was suspicious when the artwork sold for the exact same figure as the artist’s previous auction record in 2008.

Robert Casterline of Casterline Goodman gallery was in attendance and told Hyperallergic what happened next. He explained there was “complete confusion” and an “alarm inside the frame started going off as the gavel went down.”

“[It] sold for over a million dollars and as we sat there…the painting started moving,” he said, and added that the painting’s frame, also made by Banksy, acted as a shredder and started to cut the canvas into strips. “[It was] all out confusion then complete excitement,” he explained.

Anny Shaw of the Art Newspaper spoke to Alex Branczik, the auction house’s head of contemporary art for Europe,  who seemed as surprised as anyone. “It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” he said 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.”

Shaw also reports that there was speculation “that the elusive artist had himself pressed the button that destroyed the work.”

But is the work destroyed? Or is it transformed? Even Branczik isn’t sure. “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.”

Casterline clearly thought it was all very entertaining. “Banksy did it again to the art market that he so despises,” he said about the latest prank by an artist who continues to mess with the conventions of the art world.

Sotheby’s released a statement to the Financial Times: “We have talked with the successful purchaser who was surprised by the story. We are in discussion about next steps.”

Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

47 replies on “$1.3M Banksy Artwork “Self-Destructs” at Auction”

      1. What a boring response. Every time someone says something negative involving money, they’re “jealous.” I’m not sure if you’re missing the point, or just want to be contrary. My guess is the former.

        1. Yeah, unsuccessful artists are known for being so gracious in the face of others’ success.

          1. Not a successful artist alive who gives a damn about another artist’s success. That’s the domain of the bitter and the failed.

          2. Not a successful artist alive who gives a damn about another artist’s success. That’s the domain of the bitter and the failed.

        2. The original comment is boring. “He makes money, therefore his anti-cap critiques are invalid”. I mean: zzzzzzzzzz…

    1. Money isn’t everything . It must be sad living a consumerist life where money rules your view of happiness

    2. I love him because he’s both the prankster and the multi-millionaire, kind of toppled the art world which is always in great need of stretching and mutilating, and it makes it wonderful! I love it.

    1. The artist made it to shred upon the sound of the gavel or he pressed a trigger button. He also made the frame, notice how thick it is, there’s a paper shredder installed inside the frame.

  1. That’s really funny. Good on ‘im. Just wonder how the buyer will go – choose to keep it or not.

  2. Either Sotheby’s needs to fire its entire conservator and registrar team for not figuring out that the work was a goddamn shredder, or this is just a publicity stunt for a mostly irrelevant artist with waning popular draw.

    My guess is the latter.

      1. I was being facetious. I’m implying that there’s no way this wasn’t a publicity stunt in coordination with the auction house because you would have to be a moron or have simply not done your job at all to have missed something like that when doing even the most simple condition report before putting it on sale.

  3. Obviously, it’s worth even more money now. It’s not valuable because of the image, that can be easily reproduced but copies have minimal value. It’s the object and the story that goes with it.

    1. Maybe you could raise money by selling your collection of Communist memorabilia.

  4. Millions for this overrated, pretentious nonsense. No true value at all. The bourgeois have completely flipped!

    1. Value is in the mind of an evaluator. You and I may not get much out of Banksy’s shredder or Duchamp’s snowshovel, but evidently others do. It seems like the end stage of the idea of capitalism, where money is at first a means to wealth and later becomes wealth — and life — itself. What matters now is not the experience one gets out of an object or a performance, but how much money one spent on it. Same as a Rolex watch — you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to know what time it is.

  5. Banksy just did a “stock split” on the painting! That 1 “share” split like 36:1 lol

  6. Banksy just did a “stock split” on the painting! That 1 “share” split like 36:1 lol

  7. Robbing someone, cheating a consumer. Not. Cool. At. All. If he hates the art icommunity don’t be a part of it. What a low moral person. I have No respect for the artist.

  8. My guess is that everyone: the artist, the auction house, and the buyer were in on this publicity stunt. (And most likely the press, as well.)

    • A conservatory team would have easily found the shredder in their standard inspection of any work of art to be auctioned.
    • The auction house would not have wanted to surprise an unsuspecting buyer—if for no other reason than a possible law suit or losing a valued buyer.
    • The artist, whose esthetic is rooted in the intrinsic value of creating valueless, graffiti art could have kept to his preferred modus operandi. Refusing to send his work to auction would have been a more authentic way to respect his esthetic. But he chose to engage with an auction house, which suggests a purposeful desire to gain from the value and prestige set by an auction house, and so this would have been a foolish bridge to build and burn all at once by pranking an unsuspecting auction house.
    • And, gee…how did the timing of the gavel and the shredding happen so seamlessly, by the way? How did the work of art know that particular gavel was meant for it!? How did the cameras know when to roll?

    But, here in lies the rub: does a value for a work of art set at auction hold if the artist, auction house, and buyer were all in on a hoax? Didn’t this stunt defeat that purpose? Doesn’t it call Sotheby’s reputation into question?

  9. Hilarious! It could have been a bomb! And to say that I have to remove metal objects from my pockets before going to a concert…

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