A stencil spray painting by elusive artist Banksy shredded itself after it was sold for more than £1m.
The framed Girl With Balloon, one of the artist’s best known works, was auctioned by Sotheby’s in London.
The piece which shows a girl reaching towards a heart-shaped balloon was the final work sold at the auction.
However, moments after the piece went under the hammer, the canvas passed through a shredder that was hidden inside the frame.
Posting a picture of the moment on Instagram, Banksy wrote: “Going, going, gone…”
The 2006 piece sold for £1.042m on Friday night.
“It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” said Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s senior director and head of contemporary art in Europe.
John Brandler, director of Brandler Art Galleries, described Banksy as “the ultimate publicity artist” and said the stunt was “absolutely brilliant”.
“He has made Damien Hirst look like an amateur,” Mr Brandler said.
Banksy rose to prominence through a series of graffiti pieces across the country.
The enigmatic artist is thought to have grown up in Bristol, but his identity has remained a secret despite much speculation over the years.
Among his recent works was the 2015 opening of Dismaland, a Disneyland-esque attraction at a lido in Weston-super-Mare, which he described as a “family theme park unsuitable for children”.
In 2017, Girl With Balloon, which originally appeared on a wall in Great Eastern Street, London, was voted the nation’s favourite artwork.
The gallery version featured spray paint and acrylic on canvas, mounted on a board.
Does the buyer still have to pay?
Sotheby’s has not revealed who bought the piece before it was shredded.
At the moment it is unclear whether their contract still stands.
Mr Branczik told the Financial Times the auction house was trying to “figure out” what the stunt means.
He said: “We have not experienced this situation in the past …where a painting spontaneously shredded, upon achieving a [near-]record for the artist.
“We are busily figuring out what this means in an auction context.”
Will it be worth more now, or is it ruined?
Opinion is split.
Some social media posters have speculated that the prank could have actually caused the artwork to increase in value.
However, others have questioned whether the buyer would still have to pay for it – or would even want to.
Mr Brandler said the more publicity works of art get, the pricier they tend to become.
“It was the best publicity stunt he [Banksy] could think of,” he said.
Was it all just a hoax?
There have been some suggestions Sotheby’s may have been in on the stunt.
However, there has been no confirmation of that from the auction house.
In a statement on its website, it described the incident as “unexpected” and said it had become “instant art world history”.
The mystery continues.
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