Worth of Banksy work set to soar after “brilliant” prank

The already (in)famous ambush has been the talk of the art world, with observers variously describing it a stinging riposte to empty consumerism, the elusive artist’s best work yet, a childish and “puerile” prank and a sly ode to the volatility and dynamism of the art market itself.

The proponent of the latter view, Professor of Philosophy Bence Nanay, noted that the work was not fully destroyed when a hidden device started to shred it after being sold but stopped halfway to produce a Banksy work like no other.

It is unclear whether this was part of a grand plan or whether the shredding was interrupted when alarmed auction house staff removed it from the wall.

“The “shredded” work is, in fact, still in one piece, ready to be exhibited in a gallery or sold at another auction,” Nanay wrote. “It is a new and all the more valuable work of art, a unique document of an exciting moment in contemporary art history.”

The work was one of several hundred copies of Banksy’s iconic Girl with Balloon. After auction patrons were stunned to see it self-destruct, Banksy posted an Instagram video of the work being shredded along with a quote from Pablo Picasso: “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge”.

Is the ‘destroyed’ Banksy work now even more valuable?

Joey Syer, founder of MyArtBroker, opined on Twitter: “in its shredded state and we’d (sic) estimate #Banksy has added at a minimum 50% to it’s value, possibly as high as being worth £2m”.

Leon Benrimon, Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at Heritage Auctions, supported this view. “That’s the ironic part,” he told Time. “It was meant to be a criticism of the art market, and I think it’s going to double the value of the work.”

Acoris Andipa, an art dealer and Banksy specialist, described the stunning shredding as “spectacularly staged” and a “brilliant comment on the art market”. He also added to the swirling debate by suggesting auction house Sotheby’s may have been a party to the whole escapade, pointing to oddities about how the work was displayed and why they did not pick up on the work’s unusually thick frame.

Conspiracy theories abound: who was in on the jaw-dropping stunt?

Alison Young, a Professor at Criminology at the University of Melbourne, also bought into the theory that Sotheby’s were involved.

Alex Branczik, Head of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s, said it was “the first time in auction history that a work of art automatically shredded itself after coming under the hammer”. He said the auction house was still “busily figuring out” how the transaction for the now radically altered work will play out.

Ultimately the much talked about moment retains a glorious ambiguity: was it a statement on the ephemeral nature of value that backfired that inadvertently pushed a subversive artist’s work further into the realm of commodity? Alternatively, was it the ultimate act of rebellion, Banksy pulling the rug out from under the buyer and reasserting his control over his work by destroying its value the moment it changed hands?

Either way, it is not the first time Banksy has flipped notions of value on their head. In 2013, he made headlines when he sold off a batch of original signed works, some valued at six-figure sums, for just US$60 each in Central Park.

In an idiotic footnote to the stunt, one owner of a Girl with Balloon shredded his copy of the work, valued at £(US$53,000) with a Stanley knife believing it would also appreciate in value. He was later told his shreds were now worth just £1(US$1.30).

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