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Banksy artwork self-destructs moment after $1.4 million sale

In this grab taken from video on Friday, onlookers watched as the spray-painted canvas "Girl with Balloon" by artist Banksy was shredded at Sotheby's in London.Pierre Koukjian via AP

LONDON (AP) — Art prankster Banksy has struck again.

A work by the elusive street artist apparently self-destructed in front of startled auction-goers on Friday, moments after being sold for 1.04 million pounds ($1.4 million).

The spray-painted canvas ‘‘Girl With Balloon’’ went under the hammer at Sotheby’s in London, fetching more than three times its pre-sale estimate and equaling a record price for the artist.

Then, as an alarm sounded, it ran through a shredder embedded in the frame, leaving half the canvas hanging from the bottom in strips.

A post on Banksy’s official Instagram account showed the moment — and the shocked reaction of those in the room — with the words ‘‘Going, going, gone...’’


Sotheby’s — which had noted before the sale that the work’s ornate gilded frame was ‘‘an integral element of the artwork chosen by Banksy himself’’ — expressed surprise at the incident.

‘‘It appears we just got Banksy-ed,’’ said Alex Branczik, head of contemporary European art at the auction house.

The auction house said it was ‘‘in discussion about next steps’’ with the buyer. Some art-market watchers say the work could be worth even more in its shredded state.

‘‘We have not experienced this situation in the past . where a painting spontaneously shredded, upon achieving a record for the artist,’’ Branczik said. ‘‘We are busily figuring out what this means in an auction context.’’

Geneva-based artist Pierre Koukjian, who was at the auction, said the buyer was ‘‘very lucky’’ to own a now-historic piece. He called Banksy’s prank ‘‘a turning point in the history of contemporary and conceptual art.’’

Koukjian, who has met Banksy, said he is sure he caught a glimpse of the artist in the saleroom amid the confusion of the moment.

‘‘What he did is really shocking, in a good way,’’ Koukjian said. ‘‘I think it will be historic and people will talk for a long time about it.’’


Banksy is not the first artist to deconstruct his own work. In the years after World War II, German-born artist Gustav Metzger pioneered ‘‘auto-destructive art,’’ creating paintings using acid that ate away the fabric beneath.

Banksy, who has never disclosed his full identity, began his career spray-painting buildings in Bristol, England, and has become one of the world’s best-known artists. His mischievous and often satirical images include two policemen kissing, armed riot police with yellow smiley faces and a chimpanzee with a sign bearing the words ‘‘Laugh now, but one day I’ll be in charge.’’

He also has a penchant for elaborate pranks.

In 2005, he hung an image of a spear-toting ancient human pushing a shopping cart in the British Museum, where it remained for several days before being discovered. The next year he smuggled a life-sized figure of a Guantanamo Bay detainee into Disneyland, and in 2015 he erected a full-scale dystopian theme park — ‘‘Dismaland’’ — by the British seaside.

‘‘Girl With Balloon,’’ which depicts a small child reaching up toward a heart-shaped red balloon, was originally stenciled on a wall in east London and has been endlessly reproduced, becoming one of Banksy’s best-known images.