By Amy B Wang
Anonymous British graffiti artist Banksy has pulled off another stunt that seized the attention of the art world – this time at the expense of his own work.
On Friday, a Banksy painting titled “Girl with Red Balloon” was being auctioned at Sotheby’s in London. The spray-painted and acrylic piece depicted a little girl extending her arm out for a heart-shaped balloon, floating far beyond reach.
The bidding climbed to an extraordinary $1.4 million, an amount that tied the artist’s own auction record from 2008. Finally, a hammer pounded to signify the end of the auction.
Right then, the painting’s canvas began moving downward, seeming to pass through its elaborate gilded frame – and reappearing below in neat, vertical strips. Later, Sotheby’s would explain that a shredder was hidden inside the frame.
The crowd began murmuring as they realized what was happening: The painting was “self-destructing” before their very eyes.
“It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” Sotheby’s senior director Alex Branczik said in a statement that described the incident as “the first time in auction history that a work of art automatically shredded itself after coming under the hammer.”
The incident spurred questions about how Banksy had pulled it off and whether he had been at the auction in disguise. Branczik told the Art Newspaper on Friday that he was “not in on the ruse.”
“We are busy figuring out what this means in an auction context,” Branczik told the outlet. “The shredding is now part of the integral art work. We have not experienced a situation where a painting has spontaneously shredded, upon achieving a record for the artist.”
Banksy later posted a video to Instagram that showed footage of a shredding mechanism being built into the frame for, presumably, “Girl with Red Balloon.”
“A few years ago I secretly built a shredder into a painting,” he stated in the video text, “in case it was ever put up for auction…”
The video then jumped to clips of Friday’s auction at Sotheby’s, indicating that Banksy – or someone who works with him – was there when it happened.
“The urge to destroy is also a creative urge,” Banksy captioned the Instagram post.