Banksy Painting Sells For $1.9 Million, Then Immediately Self-Destructs

An artwork from the ever-elusive British street artist Banksy has quite literally "self-destructed" on the podium just seconds after the hammer went down.

Art enthusiasts and collectors came together at Sotheby's London on Friday night (local time) for the auction house's Contemporary Art Evening Sale event.

"Girl With Balloon", a popular and easily recognizable Banksy work, was the last lot up for grabs.

But after finishing on an impressive £953,829 ($1,773,267), which with buyer's premium comes to £1,042,000 ($1,937,186), the canvas was destroyed by a mechanism apparently hidden within the base of the frame.

The crowd watched on as the piece was slowly shredded into ribbons, before stopping at around the half-way point.

“It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” Alex Branczik, the auction house’s head of contemporary art for Europe, said after the auction according to The Art Newspaper.

“He is arguably the greatest British street artist, and tonight we saw a little piece of Banksy genius."

Branczik also confirmed he was "not in on the ruse."

Banksy is well-known for not being well-known, having managed to conceal  his identity since he began creating often politically themed, stenciled pieces of street art in the 1990s.

Though street art by nature doesn't typically lend itself well to commercial auctions, the cult following which has grown up around Banksy has brought with it an intense demand for his work.

In 2013, someone went so far as to physically remove a part of a wall in London which featured the artist's work, before successfully selling it at a private auction for $1.1 million.

While Sotheby's auction may have ended quite differently, Branczik raised the question of whether "Girl With Balloon" had lost its value -- as most artworks which have passed through a shredder normally would-- or if it's value actually increased.

“You could argue that the work is now more valuable,” he said. “It’s certainly the first piece to be spontaneously shredded as an auction ends.”

In a statement to the Financial Times, Sotheby's said they were in discussion with the artwork's buyer.

“We have talked with the successful purchaser who was surprised by the story. We are in discussion about next steps," the statement said.

Speculation about the artwork's present value aside, questions about whether Banksy was present at the auction to personally carry out the brazen prank have quickly started circulating.

A man dressed in black sporting sunglasses and a hat was seen scuffling with security guards near the Sotheby's entrance, The Art Newspaper reported.

READ MORE: When Art Restoration Goes Horribly Wrong

Featured Image: Getty Images

Contact the author vquested@networkten.com.au