Prices of Banksy works set to soar after shredding

The video of the artwork, Girl With Balloon, being shredded was posted on Banksy's Instagram page last Saturday.
The video of the artwork, Girl With Balloon, being shredded was posted on Banksy's Instagram page last Saturday.PHOTO: BANKSY/ INSTAGRAM

Thanks to the huge amount of publicity generated by the recent prank, the artist's works are likely to cost more, including the semi-shredded work itself

NEW YORK • Everybody's talking about it.

How did the world's most famous street artist manage to shred - or rather half shred - one of his iconic Girl With Balloon paintings moments after it had sold for US$1.4 million (S$1.94 million) at auction?

Mr Acoris Andipa, an art dealer specialising in Banksy and based in the Knightsbridge district of London, is among the many people asking that question after last Friday's sensational goings-on at Sotheby's.

"It was spectacularly staged," said Mr Andipa. "What isn't clear is whether Sotheby's was in on it."

The identities of the buyer and underbidder, both of whom were bidding anonymously by telephone, remain undisclosed.

Sotheby's said in an e-mail statement on Sunday that the successful buyer was "a private client, who was as surprised as we were, and with whom we're still in discussions".

The auction house added: "We had no prior knowledge of this event and were not in any way involved."

 
 
 

The ever-elusive, ever-inventive Banksy has once again made a fool of the art world, and captivated millions. But has the joke itself slightly self-destructed?

Banksy's remotely shredded Girl With Balloon was meant to poke fun at the excesses of the auction market. Yet thanks to the huge amount of publicity generated by this ingenious prank, his prices look set to soar even higher.

"It was a brilliant PR stunt," said Mr Offer Waterman, a dealer in 20th-century British art who attended the auction but left before the sale of the Banksy. "It's going to elevate his prices."

Mr Waterman is among those who think the Banksy sold at Sotheby's has increased in value post-shredding.

"It's become worth more as a conceptual moment than as a work of art itself," said Mr Waterman, adding that he believed Sotheby's had no knowledge of the stunt. "They didn't know. There was no reason for them to know."

However, there was something strange about the video Banksy posted last Saturday on his Instagram page.

Drawing 6.3 million views by Sunday morning, the video purportedly shows the artist secretly building a shredder into the painting "a few years ago".

If that were the case, wouldn't the battery in the shredder have had to be replaced at some point?

This, in turn, poses the question: Was Banksy himself the owner who entered this stencilled painting, which may or may not have been made and framed "years ago", into the sale?

Sotheby's, like all international auction houses, does not reveal the identity of its sellers, unless specifically requested.

And what about the identity of the man in the salesroom who remotely activated the shredding device? Could he have been the elusive "graffiti guerilla" himself?

In 2008, the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday identified Banksy as Robin Gunningham, a former private schoolboy from the Bristol area of western England.

On Saturday, Daily Mail noted the similarity between the person identified as Gunningham 10 years ago and a man taking a cellphone video in the Sotheby's salesroom last Friday.

Another man, who was seen activating a remote-control mechanism, was pictured in a post on the private Instagram page of Ms Caroline Lang, chairman of Sotheby's Switzerland. He, too, was identified as Banksy, by Ms Lang.

Those who witnessed the incident said that afterwards, Sotheby's security staff escorted a noisily protesting man off the premises.

Sotheby's declined to comment on exchanges between the individual and its security staff and on whether the company had any plans to press charges.

The prank was "a brilliant comment on the art market," said Mr Andipa, who added that if he were the buyer, he would leave the painting in the semi-shredded condition. "It's a part of art history."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2018, with the headline 'Prices of Banksy works set to soar after shredding'. Print Edition | Subscribe