When an anonymous buyer secured the winning bid for British artist Banksy’s Girl With Balloon in 2018, the painting promptly self-destructed. With the bang of an auction gavel, the framed artwork started to shred itself before security guards removed it from the wall. The partially destroyed painting was renamed Love is in the Bin.
“At first I was shocked, but I realized I would end up with my own piece of art history,” said the buyer at the time. She’s only been identified as a European woman who paid $1.4 million for the 2006 painting.
Today, that buyer sold off her piece of art history at a London auction for 18 times what she originally paid, with the winning bidder offering $25.4 million for the shredded artwork. This is three times Sotheby’s presale estimate of $8.2 million.
A prank that paid off
Originally a graffiti artist, Banksy has made a career of positioning himself outside the traditional art world. He drew attention in 2005 for hanging his artwork in museums where it wasn’t allowed, such as the Louvre in Paris, where he managed to sneak in a smiling version of the Mona Lisa.
By the time Girl With Balloon went up for auction at Sotheby’s in 2018 Banksy was known for more than just pranks, having released an award-winning documentary called Exit Through the Gift Shop, and created art that highlighted contemporary issues such as the migrant crisis and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Girl With Balloon was originally painted on a wall in east London and is one of the artist’s best-known works. Shortly after it was sold and shredded at the Sotheby’s auction Banksy released a video revealing how he’d installed a shredder at the bottom of the frame with the intention of destroying the entire painting. Sotheby’s officials insisted they’d been told the frame was “integral to the art work” and that they were not in on the prank.
The $25.4 million sale, which went to an anonymous Asian collector, represents a new record for the artist at auction. A painting honoring Britain’s healthcare workers sold for $23.1 million back in March. While Banksy doesn’t make money off his works sold on the secondary market, it’s estimated he earns $20 million a year selling original works.