At an art auction on Friday, an iconic Banksy artwork self-destructed the moment it was sold for $1.4 million.
The world’s most famously elusive artist may have just pulled his most audacious prank yet.
At an art auction on Friday taking place at Sotheby’s in London, Banksy’s iconic and perhaps most famous piece of artwork was sold for $1.4 million, then immediately self-destructed.
The artwork, “Girl With Red Balloon,” originally spray-painted on a wall in Bristol, has been endlessly reproduced as perhaps his most famous creation. The Banksy original, fixed in an ornate gilded gold frame, was finally up for sale at an auction for the first time. The moment it sold for a nearly record-breaking price, the painting began to shred itself.
A post on the Banksy Instagram account shows the shocking moment, captioned with the words “Going, going gone.”
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In the video, an alarm can be heard ringing from within the painting immediately after the auctioneer hits his gavel, and the painting starts to shred. The crowd of wealthy onlookers can be seen witnessing the event in collective horror.
On Instagram, the elusive artist reveals that he inserted a hidden shredder into the artwork’s frame years ago in case it ever got sold.
Experts suspect that a nearby Banksy friend or employee most likely pressed a button to trigger the shredding.
Sotheby’s says it was not even remotely aware of the prank.
“It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” Alex Branczik, head of contemporary European art at Sotheby’s, said in a release about the incident.
Sotheby’s says it is in “discussion about next steps” with the buyer, whose identity was not disclosed. No protocol currently exists for works of art that self-destruct after selling.
“We have not experienced this situation in the past, where a painting spontaneously shredded, upon achieving a record for the artist,” Branczik said. “We are busily figuring out what this means in an auction context.”
Some art experts estimate that now the work might be worth even more.
Pierre Koukjian, a Geneva-based artist who attended the auction, says the buyer was “very lucky” to own the historic piece. He called the event “a turning point in the history of contemporary and conceptual art.”
“What he did is really shocking, in a good way,” Koukjian said. “I think it will be historic, and people will talk for a long time about it.”
The website MyArtBroker.com, which resells Banksy pieces, says that rather than destroying the work, Banksy just made it more valuable.
“This is now part of art history in its shredded state and we’d estimate Banksy has added at a minimum 50% to its value, possibly as high as being worth £2m plus,” the website’s co-founder Joey Syer told the Guardian.
The elusively anonymous artist had always had a history of elaborate pranks. In 2005, he hung a painting of a prehistoric man pushing a shopping cart in the British Museum, where it remained hanging for several days before being discovered.
What do you think of this prank — is it horrifically mean, kind of funny, or an act of artistic genius? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!