When life handed Sotheby’s lemons, it made “instant art world history” — and $1.4 million.
At least that’s what the famous London auction house will have you believe about Banksy’s “Girl with Balloon,” which was reduced to shreds last Friday moments after selling for $1.4 million.
“The new work has been granted a certificate by Pest Control, Banksy’s authentication body, and has been given a new title, ‘Love is in the Bin,’ ” Sotheby’s said in a statement Thursday.
The winning bidder, identified only as a female European collector and long-standing Sotheby’s client, has confirmed her “decision to acquire the new work that was created that night.”
The purchase price remained the same — tying the artist’s previous record set in 2008.
Banksy, a Britiish street artist known for his stunts, appeared last week to have pulled off the perfect art world prank.
The auctioneer’s gavel fell and his iconic image of a girl reaching out for a red, heart-shaped balloon suddenly slid down into a shredder hidden inside the picture frame, leaving at least part of the canvas in strips.
Sotheby’s claimed it had been “Banksy’d.”
Banksy summed up the stunt on his Instagram account — “Going, going, gone …” along with a picture of stunned onlookers as the shredded strips emerged from the frame.
On Saturday, a video posted on Banksy’s Instagram account showed the secret shredder being built into the frame “a few years ago … in case it was ever put up for auction.” The artist also quoted Picasso — “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”
The mysterious buyer appears to agree.
“When the hammer came down last week and the work was shredded, I was at first shocked, but gradually I began to realize that I would end up with my own piece of art history,” she said, according to the auction house.
The startling moment set the art world aflame.
“This unexpected piece of performance art became instant art world history, making it the first time a new work had been created in the course of an auction,” Sotheby’s said.
“Love is in the Bin” will be on view to the public in Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries in London on Saturday and Sunday.
“Banksy didn’t destroy an artwork in the auction, he created one,” Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art, Europe, said in a statement, calling it “the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction.”
The auction house insisted it didn’t know anything about the stunt.
“I wouldn’t put it past Banksy to have staged the whole thing, and I wouldn’t put it past him to have pulled this off without anyone being on it,” Brooklyn-based street art curator RJ Rushmore told CNN.
“But whatever the ‘truth’ is doesn’t change the performance for me.”
There is speculation that Banksy, who has kept his identity hidden for more than 20 years, may have been in the room at the time of the sale, possibly overseeing the whole performance while filming on his phone.
Footage circulating on the internet shows a middle-aged man, wearing thick-rimmed black glasses, filming the moment when the picture is shredded.
Shortly after, a man is seen being escorted out of the room.
In 2016, scientists at Queen Mary’s University in London used geographic profiling, based on the artist’s movements, to identify him as a man called Robin Gunningham.
The authors conceded that their study fell short of definitive proof.
The man spotted at Friday’s auction bears similarities to Gunningham, leaving internet and art sleuths to suggest it was him.
The angle from which the man was filming could also correspond to the angle used in Banksy’s video version of events.
The famously faceless artist is known for his stunts.
In 2006 he secretly erected a life-size replica of a hooded Guantanamo Bay detainee inside a ride in the California Disneyland theme park. In 2013 he set up a stall selling his original artwork for $60 in a New York market and filmed people passing by, convinced that because of the price, the works were fake.