Banksy Painting Self-Destructs After Fetching $1.4 Million at Sotheby’s
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The British street artist Banksy pulled off one of his most spectacular pranks on Friday night, when one of his trademark paintings appeared to self-destruct at Sotheby’s in London after selling for $1.4 million at auction.
The work, “Girl With Balloon,” a 2006 spray paint on canvas, was the last lot of Sotheby’s “Frieze Week” evening contemporary art sale. After competition between two telephone bidders, it was hammered down by the auctioneer Oliver Barker for 1 million pounds, more than three times the estimate and a new auction high for a work solely by the artist, according to Sotheby’s.
“Then we heard an alarm go off,” Morgan Long, the head of art investment at the London-based advisory firm Fine Art Group, who was sitting in the front row of the room, said in an interview on Saturday. “Everyone turned round, and the picture had slipped through its frame.”
The painting, mounted on a wall close to a row of Sotheby’s staff members, had been shredded, or at least partially shredded, by a remote-control mechanism on the back of the frame.
A photo posted on the private Instagram account of Caroline Lang, the chairman of Sotheby’s Switzerland, showed a man in the salesroom operating an electronic device hidden inside a bag. Ms. Long said that she later saw a man being removed from the building by Sotheby’s security staff.
“We’ve been Banksy-ed,” Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Europe, said at a news conference afterward.
“I’ll be quite honest,” Mr. Branczik continued, “we have not experienced this situation in the past, where a painting is spontaneously shredded upon achieving a record for the artist.”
Mr. Branczik added that he was “not in on the ruse.”
Sotheby’s has not named the client whose $1.4 million purchase was destroyed. International auction houses do not divulge the identities of their buyers unless the person requests it.
But Sotheby’s said in a statement on Saturday: “The successful bidder was a private collector, bidding through a Sotheby’s staff member on the phone. We are currently in discussions about next steps.”
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