Art lovers who flocked to Sotheby’s on Saturday to view the Banksy artwork that shredded itself were sharply divided about whether the auction house was aware the stunt would take place.
When the stencil print known as Girl with Balloon descended through the shredder built into its frame, technicians in the sale room immediately took it off the wall and carried it out of view as bidding concluded. Fast forward a week and the work, now titled Love Is in the Bin, is on display in at Sotheby’s gallery.
Guests queued the length of the central London gallery and out of the door on to Regent Street as the Chemical Brothers’ rave anthem Hey Boy, Hey Girl provided the soundtrack for selfies.
“I think Sotheby’s was in on it,” said Stephanie Fielding, a Canadian marketing executive. “One would hope in an age of security consciousness they would have known that such a contraption was inside the artwork.”
Others were more hesitant to suggest Banksy and the auctioneers had conspired. “I don’t think Sotheby’s knew,” said Matteo Perazzo, an Italian amateur photographer. “Banksy is opposed to the art establishment, so it would be weird if he had colluded with them.”
Sotheby’s stressed it had “no prior knowledge of this event and were not in any way involved”. Its European head of contemporary art said earlier this week: “I took it for what it was, a coup on the art world.”
Another spokesperson said: “When we asked the artist’s studio about removing the work from its frame during the cataloguing process, we were expressly told not to. We were told that the frame, which was glued, was integral to the work; breaking it would damage the work, and negatively impact its artistic value.”
Sotheby’s employees were tight lipped on Saturday. “I work in the contemporary department and we had no idea,” one said. “I don’t think we knew but we’re not allowed to say any more,” said the receptionist. “Have you got the press release?”
A spokesperson on behalf of Banksy said: “I can categorically tell you there was no collusion between the artist and the auction house in any shape or form.
“The painting had 27 confirmed bidders on the night. A reputable auction house would never encourage their valued clients to bid on something they knew would be destroyed, their credibility would never recover. Banksy was as surprised as anyone when the painting made it past their security systems.”
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