It was 2003 when Banksy, following a record-breaking auction result for one of his canvases, created a harsh critique of the art market widely known as the Morons image. The photograph was taken from the legendary 1987 Christie’s auction where Van Gogh’s Sunflowers(originally titled Tournesols) broke the record for the most expensive painting at auction when it sold for $39.9 million. In Banksy’s interpretation, the elusive artist replaced the painting by the Dutch master with a text saying “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this s***.” A few years later the image was released as an unsigned edition at the Banksy’s 2006 Barely Legal show in LA, and it resurfaced every time a copy of the Morons print sold at auction.
Banksy has now become a household name, and that his work achieves strong prices at major auctions is no longer a curiosity or exception. When Sotheby’s announced that a final lot of their Contemporary Art Evening Auction on the Friday night of 2018 Frieze week in London would be a previously unseen version of Banksy’s arguably most iconic image, Girl With Balloon, the art world was ready for another exceptional result. The painting on canvas was presented in an exceptionally thick and ornate frame, and sold for 1,042,000 GBP (1,357,726 USD including premiums) which matched the artist’s previous auction record from 2008. The real sensation, however, came moments after.
As the auctioneer was rounding up the evening and saying thank you and goodbye, an alarm went off and the canvas began to slide out of the bottom of the frame in strips. It seems that the artist built a shredder inside the thick frame that would allow the painting to self-destruct when triggered. At this point, it is unclear how the auction house could have allowed such a stunt, or what legal repercussions this act might have. Once again Banksy has managed to deliver quite the statement to the art market, and all inside the heart of one of it’s strongest and most established bastions. To quote his Instagram post on the surprising incident, “Going, going, gone…”