A neo-dadaist painting by Banksy, which shredded itself at a Sotheby’s auction has sold for a record £16 million. Love is in the Bin sold for £1m in 2018. It was re offered at Sotheby’s in London on Thursday, selling for £16m – far more than its £4-6m guide price. The purchaser paid £18.5m in total, after commissions.
The auction saw nine bidders battle for over 10 minutes
The auction saw nine bidders battle for over 10 minutes, surpassing the previous record of £16.8m set for Banksy in March. At the end of bidding Oliver Barker the auctioneer joked he was relieved that the artwork was “still there”.
The painting became an “unexpected piece of performance art” when it shredded in the same auction room after being sold to a “private European investor” three years ago. Opening bids at £2.5m, its price tag hit £10m within minutes as numerous offers were placed. Bidding then gradually climbed to a record £15m as the race progressively narrowed down between fewer bidders.
There were a fewer tentative moments after bidder Nick Buckley Wood, representing a private investor, waited to see if anyone would outdo his client’s £16m offer. A shake of the head from his rival finally indicated they were out of the running. Mr Barker said: “At £16m ladies and gentlemen we are selling the Banksy at Sotheby’s. “You were here for this fantastic moment.”
He then drew laughter from the audience after saying: “I can’t tell you how terrified I am to bring down this hammer.”
Undermining the establishment has always been at the heart of Banksy’s work, indeed, taking the artworld down a peg or two has particular currency in his imagery and ideology. It should therefore have come as no surprise that Banksy would mastermind perhaps the most extraordinary and elaborate feat of artistic subterfuge in recent history: the moment Girl with Balloon ‘self-destructed’ at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 5th October 2018. But of course, this wasn’t an act of destruction, it was a moment of creation – a metamorphosis that transformed Banksy’s Girl with Balloon into an entirely new work of art that, in the words of BBC Arts Editor Will Gompetz, “will come to be seen as one of the most significant artworks of the early 21st Century” (Will Gompertz, ‘Will Gompertz on Banksy’s Love is in the Bin’, BBC News, 13 October 2018, online).
Hidden within the ornate gilded frame surrounding Banksy’s famous spray-painted image was a shredding mechanism that began whirring and beeping as soon as Oliver Barker hammered down the gavel on the winning £1,042,000 bid: a gobsmacked, audience looked on as the canvas began to pass through the frame in neatly cut strips. By the time the work was removed from view by Sotheby’s technicians, the machinery had stopped shredding halfway through the composition; a malfunction unexpected by the artist who, on his Instagram, claimed that “it worked in rehearsals every time”. Not knowing what was to come, Sotheby’s had placed the work at the end of one of the phone banks in a position reserved for works set to achieve high prices – a spot that played right into the artist’s hands as the event was immortalised on camera. In the days and weeks that followed Banksy’s shredded canvas became a cultural phenomenon: 30,000 news stories ensued globally, and the infamous painting became the subject of memes, political cartoons, protest placards, fridge magnets and t-shirts, to name only a few imaginative uses. Banksy’s Instagram increased by 1 million followers overnight as the artist’s series of short films documenting Girl with Balloon’s journey from studio to auction block shed some light on the machinations behind the now notorious event; and in the meantime, responding to a seemingly endless stream of press inquiries, Sotheby’s stated they had been well and truly ‘Banksy-ed’. Despite the speculation, Sotheby’s was entirely unaware of and uninvolved in Banksy’s plan – why, indeed, would an artist so focussed on undermining the establishment collude with them? Following the auction, Pest Control – Banksy’s studio and authentication body – swiftly issued a new certificate and thereafter Sotheby’s opened its doors to no less than 5,000 visitors over the course of a rainy October weekend, all of whom had queued long stretches of time, as well as New Bond Street, to see the newly titled Love is in the Bin. The successful bidder was quick to realise the significance of the event, and while it was not the piece they original planned to acquire, decided to keep the newly created artwork: “At first I was shocked”, they commented, “but I realised I would end up with my own piece of art history”. Three years on, nothing could be truer: a rebellious send up of the art market and a pin sharp contribution to the legacy of Marcel Duchamp, this piece utterly encapsulates the spirit of our time and the political, social, and artistic acuity of its author.
Top Photo Courtesy Sotheby’s