Girl with Balloon Banksy
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Balloon Girl, or Girl With Balloon, is one of Banksy’s most important works, demonstrating the graffiti stencil technique for which Banksy has become renowned around the world.
The work was released as an unsigned and signed print in 2004/2005 in low edition sizes; there are just 150 Girl With Balloon signed prints, and 600 unsigned, making it one of the most sought-after works from the artist’s oeuvre.
The work depicts a young girl, whose hair and dress are blowing in the wind, reaching for, or releasing, a red, heart-shaped balloon that has slipped from her grasp. The gesture and the red balloon, an archetypal symbol of childhood and freedom, present a powerful message that can be read in a number of ways. Whether you see the girl as losing the balloon, or about to catch it, the meaning can be interpreted as a loss of innocence or the arrival of new hope and love.
This work, which was accompanied by a quotation that read ‘there is always hope’, originally appeared in London’s Southbank in 2002, although it was later painted over by the council. In response Banksy produced it again in a new context – a miniature version appeared on the cardboard backing of a cheap Ikea frame which quickly made its mark on the art market when it realised £73,250 at a sale at Bonhams in 2012.
Since then, versions of Girl with Balloon have realised well above this. Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (Gold) realised £1,104,000 at Sotheby’s Modern Renaissance: A Cross-Category Sale in 25 March 2021, almost double its high estimate. The screenprint flew past the previous auction record held by a Banksy print, set by Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (Purple) at Christie’s in September 2020 for £791,250.
Another version of the original street art version one the work was stencil painted in Shoreditch, near Liverpool Street station, and sparked outrage when the owners of a shop proposed to peel it off the wall and send the work straight to auction. After 10 years hidden behind a billboard, it was removed in February 2014 by the Sincura Group who were responsible for the removal of Banksy’s mural Slave Labour in North London a year before. It was shown at the exhibition, “Stealing Banksy?” and then sold.
In March 2014, Banksy reworked the, by then, extremely high profile stencil to mark the third anniversary of the civil war in Syria. The redesigned image was used to promote #withsyria, a campaign to raise awareness and rally support for the victims of the three-year-long conflict. The campaign denounces ‘years of brutality and bloodshed that have turned Syria into the epicentre of a massive humanitarian crisis’. In this version, the Girl With Balloon appeared with a headscarf to depict a Syrian refugee.
Besides Banksy, other celebrities joined forces in the campaign to raise awareness, among them Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Edith Bowman, Peter Gabriel and David Milliband, who all posted pictures of themselves holding a red balloon on their Twitter or Instagram accounts.
Photographs of Syrian children holding red balloons in the style of Banksy's famous balloon girl also went viral. As part of the same campaign, the refugee version of Girl With Balloon was projected on Nelson's Column and the Eiffel Tower.
Why is Girl With Balloon important?
In July 2017, a Samsung poll of 2,000 people from UK asked participants about their favourite British piece of art. The poll's results ranked Banksy's Girl with Balloon as number one. Banksy's iconic stencil was chosen over works by Constable, JMW Turner, Thomas Gainsborough and John Everett Millais, as well as Antony Gormley's sculpture The Angel of the North, Anish Kapoor's ArcelorMittal Orbit and album covers for the Beatles, Pink Floyd and the Sex Pistols.
A year later the work became the subject of the most talked-about stunt in art history, when a signed canvas of Girl with Balloon shredded itself in front of the entire saleroom, as the hammer came down on the final £1.4 million bid at Sotheby's Evening Sale. Banksy posted an image of the work shredding itself on his own Instagram feed the same day, with the caption: ‘Going, going, gone … ’.
After the auction Pest Control, Banksy’s only authentication body, gave the Banksy shredded painting a new title, Love is in the Bin. The buyer of the work, a female European collector, proceeded with her purchase, commenting, “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.”
Why we love Girl With Balloon... ‘This work is a true icon of contemporary art – like Andy Warhol’s Marilyn before her, Girl with Balloon will come to represent a specific moment in history. Well loved by the public and collectors alike, her heartbreaking gesture reaches out to all of us making this one of the most powerful artworks of the 21st century.’ - Joe Syer
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