Famous street artist Banksy has made art history by having one of his paintings elaborately destroy itself immediately after being sold for $1.4 million.
The unprecedented stunt took place at Sotheby’s in London on October 5. Moments after the auction’s final gavel dropped, the painting destroyed itself by slipping through a concealed shredder built into the frame, catching spectators—and the art world—by surprise.
You would think that art lovers would scoff at an artist destroying their own artwork, but many, including Park West Gallery Founder and CEO Albert Scaglione, are applauding Banksy.
“I admire him,” Scaglione said. “What is it about art? What makes art? It isn’t really what the image is, it’s who got there first.”
Scaglione shed some light on the history-making incident during Tuesday’s episode of “Michigan’s Big Show” on iHeartRadio. You can listen to the full interview here.
Banksy is the notorious performance and street artist whose true identity remains unknown. Based in England, he is known for whimsical, anti-authoritarian graffiti art, which often provides pointed social commentary mixed with his own brand of dark humor. It’s actually rare for his work to be sold at auction, as most of it is street art or installation pieces.
The artwork in question was “Girl with Balloon,” a framed painting of Banksy’s iconic mural depicting a young girl letting go of a red, heart-shaped balloon. According to the Sotheby’s catalog, the work was “acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2006.” The art is spray paint and acrylic on canvas.
Scaglione sees the selling and immediate destruction of one of Banksy’s most iconic works as yet another subversive act from the infamous artist.
“The guy’s clever, the guy’s really clever,” Scaglione says.
A day after the auction, Banksy published a video with text that read: “A few years ago, I secretly built a shredder into a painting in case it was ever put up for auction.” The video shows a shredder being installed in the frame by a hooded figure.
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Many people, including Scaglione, believe someone attending the auction remotely activated the shredder. Some have even suggested Banksy was in attendance and set it off himself.
“This didn’t just automatically go off by itself, somebody in that audience likely did something to get it to go off,” Scaglione says. “It was clever as all get-out.”
While destroying the art seems like it would devalue the work, Scaglione argues that the damage done will actually cause its value to increase.
“Once they take all these pieces of canvas and put’em back together again…it’s going to be worth far, far more because it was once shredded,” Scaglione says.
Who Was in on It?
Sotheby’s claims it had no knowledge of the built-in shredder and was not involved in the stunt.
“It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” said Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s senior director and head of contemporary art in Europe.
Skeptics have pointed out that the auction house would have likely found the shredder, or at least been curious as to why the art and its frame were so heavy.
In a statement, the auction house claimed it was “expressly told not to remove the frame.” The statement adds that “In many cases, if you remove the frame you violate the artist’s wishes and destroy the artwork.”
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The auction house has not revealed the identity of the buyer or the name of the painting’s previous owner, which only adds to the mystery.
The identity of Bansky has remained a secret for more than 20 years, though many have speculated that Bansky’s true identity is Robin Gunningham. However, no definitive proof has been offered and his identity still remains in dispute. Those that collaborate with him are known for remaining silent about Bansky’s identity and methods.