That half-shredded Banksy painting sold for an eye-watering R375 million

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A partially destroyed Banksy painting sold at auction on Thursday at Sotheby’s in London for more than 18 times what it went for just three years ago. It’s the most expensive work by the artist to sell at auction, ever.

The piece, then called Girl with Balloon, made headlines around the world in October 2018 when it self-destructed immediately after selling at Sotheby’s for about £1 million ($1.2 million at the time). The artist claimed it was a "prank" and the auction house disclaimed any complicity in the stunt, raising many an eyebrow.

The artwork was subsequently renamed Love Is in the Bin and quickly became "a cultural phenomenon" says Emma Baker, a contemporary art specialist at Sotheby’s in London.

"You’ve seen it on T-shirts and protest placards and political cartoons, and McDonalds and IKEA have used this artwork as a basis for a couple of their ads. It’s in the realm of the iconic."

In the lead-up to the sale, which took place in the midst of London’s Frieze Week, Sotheby’s promoted the work to clients around the globe, and even went so far as to shred the banner outside its headquarters as an homage. 

Its efforts paid off. "A huge amount of people came to see it," says Baker. "There were up to 1 000 people per day since last weekend."

The work was estimated to sell for between £4 million to £6 million pounds ($5.5 million to $8.2 million). During the sale, bidding began at £2.5 million, and quickly rose in half-million pound increments to £14 million, when two phone bidders began to compete concertedly for the work. After what Sotheby's says was 10 minutes of bidding, the auctioneer, Oliver Barker, hammered the work at £16 million. With auction house fees, the total came to £18.58 million.

The shredding of Girl With Balloon.
The shredding of Girl With Balloon.

A sharp upswing

The sale comes at a time when Banksy’s market is on a sharp upswing. The anonymous artist’s auction record nearly doubled this year, when his oil-on-canvas picture of a child playing with a nurse superhero doll, Game Changersold for $23 million at Christie’s London in March, with proceeds benefitting University Hospital Southampton staff and patients.

His record had previously been set in October 2019 with his oil painting Devolved Parliament, which depicts the British House of Commons populated by chimpanzees. It sold for $12.2 million at Sotheby’s London.

The performance of Love Is in the Bin "says maybe less about the Banksy market, than the market for this artwork," Baker says.

"I feel like this is one of the most ingenious art events, and happenings, of this century so far, and I think it’s beyond a doubt Banksy’s most successful work."

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