A Banksy painting has been bought £18.5m three years after it had shredded itself at auction.
The elusive street artist’s work Love is in the bin was sold by Sotheby’s on Thursday for £16m. Including a buyer’s premium, the purchaser paid £18.5m in total.
Its price far exceeded expectations that it would attract bids of between £4m and £6m.
The auction house said the price was a record for Banksy – who is known for stencilling images on walls around the world that often make socio-political points.
His painting, originally titled Girl With Balloon, sold at the same auction house for £1.1m in 2018.
The canvas painting depicts a small child reaching up towards a heart-shaped red balloon, an image that was originally stencilled on a wall in east London in 2002. It has become one of Banksy’s best-known images and has been reproduced millions of times.
As soon as the sale was made, the canvas began sliding out of the bottom of the frame and shredding itself to the sound of a siren. The shredder stopped about half-way through the canvas, but Banksy has reportedly said that he intended it to shred completely.
Sotheby’s said they had no prior knowledge of the shredder’s existence, but have said it was the “first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction”.
Immediately after the sale, Banksy’s representatives deactivated the shredder, but left the mechanics in the frame. They then renamed the work from Girl with Balloon to Love is in the Bin.
Banksy reportedly said that he prepared the self-destruct mechanism in case the work was ever put up for auction.
Alex Branczik, chairman of modern and contemporary art at Sotheby’s Asia, said: “It is almost three years to the day since one of the most ingenious moments of performance art this century made auction history.
“It has been a whirlwind to follow the journey of this now legendary piece and to have it back in our midst, offering it tonight in the very room it was created by the artist.
“Banksy is no stranger to making headlines and this latest chapter in his story has captured imaginations across the world – we can only begin to guess what might come next.”
Mr Branczik also said that the auto-destruct stunt “did not so much destroy an artwork by shredding it, but instead created one”.
Auto-destructive art is an art form that originated in England in the late 1950s, and was used by its pioneer – artist and Jewish refugee Gustav Metzger – to express the horror of the events preceding and of the Second World War.
In March, Banksy raised more than £16m for health projects by auctioning Game Changer, a hand-painted image of a boy playing with superhero dolls.
While Batman and Spiderman are in what appears to be a wastepaper bin, the boy holds a figure of a masked nurse wearing a cape.
Banksy had donated the painting to University Hospital Southampton in May 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic.
It went to auction 10 months later, and the proceeds were donated to the hospital and other health groups around the country.