In October 2018, Banksy’s self-destructing Girl with Balloon left the art world torn with questions. How did he do it? Was Sotheby’s in on the stunt? As the renamed work Love is in the Bin goes under the hammer again on 14 October, here is a recap of the events so far to bring you up to speed.
Banksy installs a secret shredder inside Girl with Balloon’s frame
Why did Banksy shred his own painting, Girl with Balloon?
Banksy’s work has long been in tension with the art world, poking fun at its astronomical prices and exclusivity – this can be seen in works such as his 2006 Morons print, which shows an auctioneer selling a canvas emblazoned with the words ‘I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit’. That Banksy installed his custom shredder in the frame of a Girl With Balloon print at around the same time as he created Morons gives us a large clue as to his motive. While Banksy is known for enjoying a prank, or for luring the media to his advantage, the stunt can hardly be classified as a cheap media ploy; 12 years in advance, Banksy planned to further compound his critique, as found in Morons, of the strange logic and wealth of the commercial art world.
How did Banksy shred Girl with Balloon?
Seemingly fed up with the inflated price tags his work is given on the secondary market – which he does not profit from – Banksy installed a remote-controlled shredder featuring a row of scalpels inside the frame of a Girl with Balloon canvas, in case the piece ever went to auction. The ornate gilt frame is itself a nod to the elitist traditions of the art world.
Banksy gave the framed canvas to a friend after his now-famous Barely Legal exhibition in Los Angeles in 2006, which suggests he installed the shredder before or shortly after the show.
Girl With Balloon is auctioned at Sotheby’s in London
Banksy’s Girl with Balloon was the last artwork to be sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction. Estimated at £200,000-300,000, the artwork eventually realised £1.04million with fees.
Once the gavel dropped on the successful bid, the work began sliding out of the bottom of the frame and came out the other side in shreds, to the sound of a siren and gasps from the audience. The painting stopped when it was around halfway through the shredder, leaving the top intact.
According to a now-deleted video Banksy posted on his Instagram after the event, this was not meant to happen – apparently “In rehearsals it worked every time”. The video was accompanied by a quote from Picasso that read, “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge”.
Who bought Banksy’s shredded artwork?
Speaking to the press after the sale, Sotheby’s Senior Director Alex Branczik famously commented “It appears we just got Banksy-ed”. The auction house proceeded to describe the shredded painting as “the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction” and informed the world of the work’s new title, Love Is In The Bin, which was re-authenticated by Pest Control.
The anonymous female buyer, European collector and long-standing Sotheby’s client, decided to proceed with the sale: “When the hammer came down last week and the work was shredded, I was at first shocked, but gradually I began to realise that I would end up with my own piece of art history,” she said.
The work went on public display at Sotheby’s and Frieder Burda de Baden-Baden Museum in South West Germany, who “deactivated” the internal shredder to avoid a visitor accidentally setting it off. The owner of Love Is In The Bin has since placed the artwork on long-term loan at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.
Was Sotheby’s in on the Love Is In The Bin stunt?
“Were we in on it? Absolutely not,” Branczik has stated. But many have speculated that the auction house was in fact in on the trick, claiming that it would have been impossible not to notice the weight and bulk of the inbuilt shredder in the frame, which was so ridiculously oversized to begin with. However, this has been countered by those saying that Pest Control, who were called in to authenticate the work, insisted that it could not be removed without causing damage to the artwork itself so the specialists could not investigate further.
Another clue is the fact that the painting was the last thing to be auctioned that night, providing the perfect headline act. Some have said this proves Sotheby’s collusion – if it had been placed in the middle of the auction it would have caused too much confusion and distraction from the rest of the works on sale. However, this too cannot be confirmed, with insiders saying that the painting was placed last because of annoyance with the consignor (thought to be Banksy himself, using a third party for the process) who had insisted on having the piece in the evening sale, when it should have been in the day sale. As a result, it was put in the last slot, one of the least favourable in terms of the running order of an auction.
Finally, the nail in the coffin of this theory comes from a statement by Banksy’s former gallerist and collaborator Steve Lazarides who said: “I worked for him for 12 years, the idea of him colluding with an institution to pull off a stunt is the complete antithesis to his philosophy.”
Love Is In The Bin goes down in auction history
What was the reaction to Banksy’s shredding stunt?
The stunt gained many column inches as commentators rushed to put in their two cents on the event, including dealer and columnist for Artnet, Kenny Schacter, who wrote, “In a realm as chockablock with legerdemain as the art world, what matters, at the end of the day, is that the audience enjoyed the show. With his star turn at Sotheby’s, Banksy gave us all a command performance.”
Many art world commentators also speculated that the piece had risen in value significantly after such a public stunt. MyArtBroker’s lead Banksy broker Joe Syer is quoted in The Guardian saying: “The auction result will only propel this further and given the media attention this stunt has received, the lucky buyer would see a great return on the £1.02m they paid last night. This is now part of art history in its shredded state and we’d estimate Banksy has added at a minimum 50% to its value.” This was also picked up by other news outlets, including The Telegraph and TV programme Have I Got News For You.
Don’t shred a Banksy print at home
After reading the speculations that Banksy’s shredding increased the price of his work, one collector decided to shred his own unsigned Girl With Balloon print in hopes of adding value. It backfired disastrously.
Sotheby’s announces resale of Love Is In The Bin at a much higher price
When will Love Is In The Bin return to auction?
In early September, Sotheby’s announced the sale of Banksy’s Love Is In The Bin in their Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London on 14 October 2021. The auction house has estimated that the artwork will sell for £4-6 million, suggesting it has quadrupled its value or more in just over three years.
But Love Is In The Bin will likely sell for even higher, as many recent Banksy originals offered at Sotheby’s have far exceeded their estimates. In June, a Laugh Now in their Hong Kong auction sold for HK$17.7 million, nearly three times higher than its low estimate, while in May 2021, a Love Is In The Air canvas achieved $12.9 million against its low estimate of $3 million. Sotheby’s is hoping to attract Asian and American buyers again for Love Is In The Bin by exhibiting the artwork in Hong Kong, Taipei and New York before the sale.
Will Banksy strike again with another stunt?
Banksy, as divisive ever, has had the MyArtBroker team in deep speculation. Here’s what was overheard in the team this week:
“No one can ever predict what Banksy will do next.” – Joe Syer, MyArtBroker founder and lead Banksy broker.
“I think the artwork will finish its path of destruction, and Banksy will hack the live stream of the auction.” – Rob Coles, Marketing Director.
“Hmmm, I think he’s not going to do anything because everyone suspects him to do something.” – Hongmiao Shi, Senior Content Editor.
“Artwork dissolves into digital microchip, appears miraculously below the gavel, and is quickly resold as an NFT. Banksy never does what’s expected of him.” – Charlotte Stewart, Managing Director
It seems unlikely that Banksy would pull the same trick twice, but the artist is also a master of surprises. Tune in on 14 October to find out…