If there’s one thing we know about the elusive graffiti artist Banksy, it’s that he despises the way art auctions work.
He made that very clear in 2007, when he posted an image on his website of a packed auction room bidding on a framed painting of the words: “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit”.
So it’s not entirely surprising that one of his most famous paintings, Girl With Balloon, selfdestructed after selling for more than $1.86 million at a Sotheby’s auction in London.
On Instagram, Banksy revealed he had secretly built a hidden shredder into the frame of the painting years ago, in case it was ever auctioned off.
He shared footage of the prank online, which showed half the painting now hangs in ribbons below the frame.
Joey Syer, the co-founder of MyArtBroker.com, a website that helps connects art buyers and sellers, estimates the painting could be worth double.
“Banksy’s Girl With Balloon is one of the most iconic images of recent times,” he said on Twitter.
“In its shredded state, we’d estimate Banksy has added at a minimum 50 per cent to its value, possibly as high as being worth 2 million pounds.”
So why could it be worth more?
Girl With Balloon is not the first piece of art to selfdestruct. Nor is this the first prank that Banksy has played on the public.
But Alex Branczik, the senior director and head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, said it was “the first time in auction history that a work of art automatically shredded itself after coming under the hammer”.
That makes it part of world art history, according to Mr Syer, which will increase its appeal.
“The auction result will only propel this further and given the media attention this stunt has received, the lucky buyer would see a great return on the 1.02 million pounds they paid last night,” he said.
Does this mean Banksy’s prank has backfired?
Not at all.
Alison Young, a professor of criminology at the University of Melbourne who has studied street art and Banksy for years, said this was far from a prank gone wrong.
She said Banksy would have known all along what effect the stunt would have on the value of his work, and it was part of his ongoing exploration of the commercialisation of art.
“It’s a stencilled piece that can be easily replicated. I think Banksy would find this all very amusing,” she said.
Professor Young also suspects that Sotheby’s and potentially both the buyer and seller were in on the joke.