One of Banksy’s best known works of art ended up going through a shredder on Friday, October 5, just seconds after it auctioned for a whopping $1.4 million.
As the auctioneer’s hammer came down on Banksy’s Girl With Balloon stencil at Sotheby’s in London, the artwork began making a strange noise, catching the attention of those gathered in the room. What happened next took everyone by surprise.
The picture began passing slowly through a shredder built into the frame, ruining it for whoever had just made the winning bid. About halfway through, the machine stopped operating, leaving a portion of the artwork in shreds dangling below the frame. The rest of it remained intact, still inside the frame.
Two officials from Sotheby’s quickly stepped in to remove the picture from the wall as it dawned on those in the room that this was exactly how Banksy had planned for the auction to end. Whether anyone at the auction was in on the prank isn’t clear, though it seems likely that someone close by activated the shredder remotely.
Banksy, whose identity has never been officially revealed, later posted a video on his YouTube channel in which he appeared to offer an explanation for his latest stunt.
The video (above) begins by showing a message from the artist — “A few years ago I secretly put a shredder into a painting in case it was ever put up for auction” — followed by a clip of the shredder being installed into the frame, and footage of the moment Girl With Balloon begins to pass through the shredder.
“In a moment that caught everyone in the room by surprise, Banksy’s Girl with Balloon self-destructed just as the final hammer signaled the end of an evening of auctions in London,” Sotheby’s wrote in a post on its website. “The work sold for 1,042,000 British pounds ($1.4 million), tying the artist’s record in pounds at auction previously achieved in 2008.”
Sotheby’s added that the unexpected incident “certainly marks the first time in auction history that a work of art automatically shredded itself after coming under the hammer.”
Now the art world is wondering if the person who bid $1.4 million for Girl With Balloon still wants it, though it’s possible that as the shredding stunt was Banksy’s doing, the artwork could now be worth even more than when it was in one piece.