Banksy's iconic "Girl With Red Balloon" street art went under the hammer at Sotheby's in a custom frame of the artist's own design; moments after it sold for £953,829, a booby-trap kicked in, drawing the canvas into a series of shredder blades built into the frame, rendering it down to a pile of forlorn strips of shredded cloth.
The art speculation market has run white-hot for a decade and more, as inequality floods of dark money has sought highly liquid, tax-invisible assets. As a result, the world's most important art treasures sit in climate controlled containers in "freeports," changing hands without ever moving, seen by no one.
“It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” said Alex Branczik, the auction house’s head of contemporary art, Europe, immediately after the sale. “He is arguably the greatest British street artist, and tonight we saw a little piece of Banksy genius,” he said, adding that he was “not in on the ruse”, although it is not clear whether other members of staff were. Some commented on the unusually thick frame, which could have easily concealed a shredding mechanism.
After a man dressed in black sporting sunglasses and a hat was seen scuffling with security guards near the entrance to Sotheby’s shortly after the incident, speculation mounted that the elusive artist had himself pressed the button that destroyed the work. According to the provenance, Girl with a Balloon was acquired directly from the artist in 2006.
Sotheby’s 'Banksy-ed' as painting 'self-destructs' live at auction [Anny Shaw/The Art Newspaper]