Did Banksy Pull Off The Successful ‘Shredding’ Stunt All by Himself?

Girl with Balloon, one of Banksy’s iconic works, was mysteriously shredded after being sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening sale in London last Friday. The anonymous street artist posted a video revealing how he secretly built a shredder in the frame and destroyed the painting moments after it was hammered down at £860,000.

The prank caused a huge sensation in the art world and received widespread media coverage. Everyone is wondering how the artist managed to install and activate the device without being noticed. While some are amazed by the artist's excellent yet discreet execution, some question whether the whole incident was planned all by the artist himself, without other parties taking part in the stunt.

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening sale

Girl with Balloon

The incident took place on Friday night during Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Auction in London. As the auction was coming to an end, the auctioneer was selling the last lot, Banksy’s Girl with Balloon. The framed work depicting a girl reaching out toward a bright red, heart-shaped balloon was hammered down for £860,000 and sold for £1.042m (US$1.4 million) after premium, tying the artist’s record in pounds at auction previously achieved in 2008.

Moments after the hammer was brought down, an alarm sound went off. Girl with Balloon, which was hung on a wall near the back entrance, rather than placed by porters on a podium, began to pass through a hidden shredder, which was triggered by a remote-control mechanism built into the frame.

Banksy published a video on Instagram explaining how the preparations were carried out. "A few years ago, I secretly built a shredder into a painting in case it was ever put up for auction,” the artist wrote in the video.

According to the provenance provided by the auction house, the present owner acquired the work directly from the artist in 2006. That means the present owner had kept the painting for 12 years. If the shredder was installed a few years ago, as the artist claimed in the video, how did Banksy get the painting from the present owner and install the device without arousing the owner's suspicion?

Screenshot taken from the video posted by Banksy

Screenshot taken from the video posted by Banksy

Screenshot taken from the video posted by Banksy

Screenshot taken from the video posted by Banksy

Screenshot taken from the video posted by Banksy

Alex Branczik, Sotheby's Senior Director | Head of Contemporary Art, Europe

When asked of the prank, Alex Branczik, Sotheby's Senior Director and Head of Contemporary Art, Europe, said: ‘It appears we just got Banksy-ed.’ Branczik insisted that Sotheby’s was ‘not in on the ruse’.

Yet, the painting coincidentally appeared to be the last lot at the auction, which capped off the auction with a much-hyped ending. If the work was offered earlier, it would have diverted people attention to the ‘unexpected incident’ and interrupted the auction. 

Based on the video published by Banksy, the device was not of a small, unnoticeable size. So why didn't anyone notice anything unusual inside the frame when the auction house was examining the artwork or inspecting the artist's signature at the back? If the artist could easily get the shredder built-in the frame without getting notice, should it raise security concern to Sotheby's given that anybody can hide anything dangerous inside an artwork without alarming the auction house? 

The present one offered at the auction was created in 2006

Girl With Balloon originally appeared on a wall in Great Eastern Street

Girl With Balloon on a wall in London's West Bank

Though there remain many suspicions surrounding the incident, it is undoubtedly a very successful stunt that brought a win-win situation to all parties involved, whether they had prior knowledge or not. The stunt will be remembered as a classic art performed by Banksy, as the artist remarked on his Instagram post with a quote from Picasso, ‘The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.’ Art lovers are impressed by the brilliant prank pulled off by the artist, who poked fun at the excesses of the auction market.

The buyer is more than happy to be the owner of the first work of art that automatically shredded itself after coming under the hammer. It is speculated that the half-shredded painting may now have doubled in value. Experts estimate Banksy has added at a minimum 50% to its value, possibly as high as being worth £2m or even more.

Sotheby’s declined to disclose the buyer’s identity, but it said in a statement on Saturday that the successful bidder was a private collector, bidding through a Sotheby’s staff member on the phone. Meanwhile, the auction house has received so much attention from the international media. Who doesn't like free and positive publicity? As long as everyone likes this stunt, who cares if Banksy pulled off the prank all by himself or not. 

Banksy (b.1974). Girl with Balloon

Lot no.: 67
Size: 101 x 78 x 18
Created in: 2006
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2006
Estimate: £200,000 – 300,000
Hammer price: £860,000
Price realised: £1,042,000

Auction house: Sotheby’s London
Sale: Contemporary Art Evening sale
Sale date: 5 October 2018
Lots offered: 40
Sold: 32
Unsold: 8
Sold by lot: 80%
Sale total: £33,865,900