Banksy, the most elusive figure in the art world, gave a giant middle finger to art brokers on Friday night when his painting fetched a record price at Sotheby’s only to self-destruct seconds later.
Witnesses said an alarm sounded immediately after Girl With Balloon sold for approximately $1.4 million, leaving onlookers gasping and confused as the painting then began to slip out of the bottom of the frame in shredded pieces. The frame, which had come with the painting, had apparently been booby-trapped with a hidden device.
Attendees at the auction were captured in video of the incident laughing hysterically once they’d realized what had happened.
“It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” Alex Branczik, Sotheby's senior director and head of contemporary art, said of the stunt.
The buyer of the artwork, who has not been identified, was said to have been “surprised” to learn of the painting’s new shredded condition. Sotheby’s has said it is “in discussion about next steps” with the buyer in light of the unprecedented situation.
“We have not experienced this situation in the past where a painting spontaneously shredded, upon achieving a record for the artist,” Branczik said in a statement. “We are busily figuring out what this means in an auction context.”
Banksy, whose identity remains unknown, posted an image of the incident to his Instagram page with the caption, “Going, going, gone.” While most of social media hailed the artist as a genius for what is being described as his bravest prank yet, Banksy is not the first to rig one of his own artworks to self-destruct. German-born artist Gustav Metzger pioneered Auto-Destructive Art in the 1960s, using acid in paintings that would literally eat away at themselves.
Experts said Banksy’s subversive stunt may have also only increased the value of the painting.
“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 ($2.6 million),” Joey Syer, the co-founder of MyArtBroker.com, was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
The Bristol-born artist has been known to troll the art world with his satirical works and mockery of consumerism, once even installing an elaborate dystopian theme park called “Dismaland” along the British seaside.