Girl with Balloon had just sold at Sotheby's for £1,042,000 (S$1,855,500)—a joint record for the maverick artist—on Friday when it unexpectedly passed through a shredder hidden in the frame, according to the auction house.
"It appears we just got Banksy-ed," said Alex Branczik, Sotheby's head of contemporary art for Europe, in a press release accompanied by photos of the bizarre episode.
"The unexpected incident became instant art-world folklore and certainly marks the first time in auction history that a work of art automatically shredded itself after coming under the hammer," the auctioneers added in the statement.
It is unclear whether Sotheby's, which could not be immediately reached for further comment on Saturday, had prior knowledge of the stunt. Banksy, a mysterious artist from Bristol, Southwest England, rose to fame painting clandestine street murals, typically simple graffiti stencils with a sharp political point, all over the world. He has also produced a treasure trove of other kinds of images, and his works have sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds in many cases.
The price paid in London on Friday evening matched the artist's previous record at auction for his Keep It Spotless piece in 2008, Sotheby's said. Prior to its shredding, the framed Girl with Balloon—spray paint and acrylic on canvas mounted on board—depicted a girl reaching out toward a bright red, heart-shaped balloon. It was instantly recognisable as a Banksy to anyone familiar with his work.
The artist posted a photo of the stunt, midway through shredding, on his Instagram page early Saturday, above the caption: "going, going, gone", imitating an auctioneer. In a later Instagram video that documents the moment the painting went through the shredder, Banksy revealed that he has built the shredder into the frame of the painting years ago, in case it ever got auctioned. The video was captioned with a quote by Pablo Picasso: "The urge to destroy is also a creative urge".
While Banksy's prank meant to poke fun at the auction market, it may have backfired on him this time. The attention-grabbing act has generated so much publicity that the £1,042,000 tag on the half-shredded Girl with Balloon looks to be soaring to higher prices.