LONDON • Picture this: You have beat off a bidder to claim a Banksy painting called Girl With Balloon, only for it to "deflate".
That happened last Friday when the British street artist appeared to have pull off one of his most spectacular pranks at Sotheby's in London, after his work was sold for US$1.4 million (S$1.94 million) at auction.
Girl With Balloon, a 2006 spray paint on canvas, was the last lot of Sotheby's Frieze Week evening contemporary art sale.
After competition between two telephone bidders, it was hammered down by auctioneer Oliver Barker for more than three times the estimate and a new auction high for a work solely by the artist, according to Sotheby's.
"Then, we heard an alarm go off," said Mr Morgan Long, head of art investment at London-based advisory firm Fine Art Group, who was sitting in the front row. "Everyone turned round and the picture had slipped through its frame."
The painting, mounted on a wall close to a row of Sotheby's staff members, had been shredded, or at least partially shredded, by a remote-control mechanism on the back of the frame.
A photo posted on the private Instagram account of Ms Caroline Lang, chairman of Sotheby's Switzerland, showed a man in the salesroom operating an electronic device hidden in a bag.
She said she later saw a man being removed from the building by Sotheby's security staff.
"We've been Banksy-ed," Mr Alex Branczik, Sotheby's head of contemporary art in Europe, said afterwards.
Sotheby's has not named the client whose purchase was destroyed.
But the firm said in a statement last Saturday: "The successful bidder was a private collector, bidding through a Sotheby's staff member on the phone. We are currently in discussions about next steps."
Ms Joanna Brooks, director of JBPR, who answers media inquiries on behalf of Banksy, declined to comment on whether the artist himself had been removed from the salesroom.
Last Saturday afternoon, Banksy - whose actual identity remains a secret - posted a video on his Instagram account, recording the confusion at Sotheby's auction, following a sequence purporting to show the artist hiding a shredder in a gilt-wood picture frame.
"A few years ago, I secretly built a shredder into a painting," Banksy wrote in the video. "In case it was ever put up for auction."