The art world is in shock today after a priceless item up for auction was "going, going, gone" — quite literally. On the evening of Friday, Oct. 5, elusive artist Banksy's arguably most iconic art piece was in the market for a buyer at Sotheby's of London when the unthinkable happened. That's right, Banksy’s 'Girl With Balloon' was shredded after being sold at auction for over $1 million, and people can't handle it.
In the most Banksy-esque of Banksy pranks, the enigmatic graffiti artist's 'Girl With Balloon' — which depicts a young girl reaching towards a red heart-shaped ballon — decided to self-destruct just moments after a buyer made the move to purchase it for about $1.4 million, according to a blog post shared by Sotheby's. The image, which was voted the U.K.'s favorite piece of artwork back in 2017, was the final piece up for auction. After the hammer went down and it was sold, an alarm sounded and the drawing suddenly started lowering through its frame before a hidden shredder cut it into strips, shocking and dismaying attendees. Unsurprisingly, the art world is still reeling from the (maybe) destruction of one of the world's most iconic pieces and trying to figure out what comes next.
In a blog post shared by Sotheby's, Alex Branczik, Sotheby's senior director and head of contemporary art in Europe, said the future of the piece is still up in the air, noting "it appears we just got Banksy-ed." Elite Daily reached out to Sotheby's of London to inquire if the auction house was aware of the stunt before it happened and if there were any changes in the purchase of the piece, but did not hear back by the time of publication.
"We have not experienced this situation in the past ...where a painting spontaneously shredded, upon achieving a [near-]record for the artist," Branczik further explained in an interview with the Financial Times.
He continued, "We are busily figuring out what this means in an auction context."
As for the mysterious Banksy, he celebrated the successful prank with the fitting caption "Going going gone" on his Instagram. He also apparently took to the social media platform to share a video (which he reportedly deleted just moments later) where he showed a shredder being installed in the piece should it ever be sold at auction. Elite Daily reached out to Banksy for comment and his or her whereabouts at the time of the shredding, but did not hear back by the time of publication.
Many are taking the prank to be a social resistance move mixed with a dose of performance art, and public opinion on Twitter is split on whether the publicity stunt ruined the piece or if it has in fact, as some users are saying, increased its value.
"You could argue that the work is now more valuable,” Branczik remarked in Sotheby's blog post, calling it "instant art world folklore." He said, “It’s certainly the first piece to be spontaneously shredded as an auction ends.” Plus, as many users have noted, it was symbolic that the balloon heart was not a part of the spontaneous destruction. According to Sotheby's, the mysterious bidder was "surprised by the story" and they are currently holding discussions about what will come next.
Some Twitter users are speculating that Sotheby's was previously aware of the planned stunt, although several officials rushed to try and save the piece when it first started shredding.
As of now, the future of "Girl With Balloon" appears to be up in the air, but it's safe to say that Banky's prank might just go down as the PR stunt of the year.