Just moments after it was auctioned off for $1.4 million to an undisclosed bidder at Sotheby's in London, Banksy's "Girl With Balloon" appeared to self-destruct.
The canvas — bearing one of the mysterious artist's most famous pieces — slid down its thick frame, shredding half of the piece, much to the shock of auction attendees.
The stunning and widely viewed moment was seen as a pointed criticism of the lucrative art world from the daring artist. But art dealers and auction house directors think the unique stunt has only made the $1.4 million work — a price that set a record for a Banksy piece — more valuable.
"That's the ironic part about it," Leon Benrimon, the director of modern and contemporary art at Heritage Auctions, tells Money. "It was meant to be a criticism of the art market, and I think it's going to double the value of the work."
"You'd almost wonder if he'd recognize the fact that it would've doubled the value of the work," Benrimon adds.
In a video posted on Instagram, Banksy revealed the details of the custom-made frame, which included a shredder "in case it was ever up for auction." Sotheby's maintains the art house was unaware of any plans for the stunt before it occurred. The identities of the buyer and the underbidder have not been revealed.
“It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” Alex Branczik, senior director and head of contemporary art for Sotheby’s, said in a statement after the event. "We have not experienced this situation in the past where a painting spontaneously shredded, upon achieving a record for the artist. We are busily figuring out what this means in an auction context."
The dramatic moment prompted a slew of questions — especially since Banksy claims to have installed the machinery years ago. How was the shredder set off, and by whom? Was Banksy in the room? Art experts also pondered how Sotheby's was not involved when art dealers typically examine pieces for quality before they go up for auction. (Sotheby's did not respond to a request for comment from Money.)
Nonetheless, experts believe the unique moment perhaps now transcends the iconic 2006 piece of art itself. Millions of people have seen Banksy's video of the stunt on Instagram, and it captured international headlines over the weekend. "There aren't many points of reflection like this," Benrimon says.
Using art to drive these conversations is nothing new for Banksy. The graffiti artist's pieces have commented on a slew of issues from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Europe's migrant crisis, war, and consumerism, among other issues. But experts say the shredding is particular striking for its significance in the art world itself — and the moment is bound "to elevate his prices" moving forward, Offer Waterman, a British art dealer, told the New York Times.
"It's become worth more as a conceptual moment than as a work of art itself," Waterman told the Times.