“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.”
Brooks would not say whether the artist had been at the auction. She said Sotheby’s had been “100 percent” unaware of the planned stunt.
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.