As has become depressingly commonplace in contemporary society, street artist Banksy's latest provocative anti-consumerist gesture has been exposed as just another marketing stunt. As the Financial Times reports, auction house Sotheby's has completed the sale of Banksy's "Girl with Balloon" painting – a sale that caused a stir in the art world when it self-destructed immediately after the auction-house gavel came down via a shredding mechanism hidden in the frame. Banksy's handling services organization, Pest Control, has blessed the half-shredded painting as a new work, entitled "Love is in the Bin", and the painting's original winning bidder, an anonymous female European collector, has pressed ahead with the purchase, though she now has the option of re-selling it on the secondary market for an even larger premium.
The half-shredded painting is to go on public display at Sotheby’s London salerooms on Saturday and Sunday. Shocked art patrons looked on in horror a week ago when the painting, originally entitled "Girl With Balloon" self-destructed. But as many readers probably anticipated, the surprise shredding concept, which was incorporated in secret, was "integral" to the piece. Already, bidders had driven the price of the piece upwards from the expected 200,000 to 300,000 pounds to 1.04 million pounds. Now, experts say it could be worth many times that.
Sotheby’s said that, ahead of the sale, it had asked Pest Control for authorisation to remove the picture from the frame, to inspect it. The request was refused.
"We have handled many sales of Banksy artworks and, over the years, we have built a relationship of trust with his office, Pest Control," Sotheby’s said in a statement.
"We asked on at least two occasions to check the work out of the frame, but we were told that the frame (which was glued) was integral to the work; breaking it would damage the work, and negatively impact its artistic and monetary value. As it turns out, the frame was integral to the concept of the artwork, just not in the way that we had expected."
…And has only helped increase its value.
Since the painting has remained intact, albeit sliced to ribbons, art market professionals have said its notoriety is likely to have raised its market value. Following its quasi-destruction, a number of individuals subsequently approached the auction house with offers to buy the work.
At least four separate bidders drove up the price of the work at the sale, with the painting finally going to a telephone bidder whom Sotheby’s disclosed on Thursday was a female European collector. The purchase will be completed for £1,042,000, the original price achieved at auction including buyer’s premium.
After carrying out what has become his best-known stunt, the Bristol street artist later posted a video on his Instagram feed showing a hooded figure assembling an ornate gold picture frame equipped with a row of concealed scalpel blades and a number of electronic components.
Then again, maybe this was Banksy's intention all along: Hoodwinking a wealthy art patron into paying a premium for a shredded canvas.