Articles and Features

Iconic Artworks: Banksy’s Shredded Painting – Art or Prank?

Banksy shredded painting: Love is in the Bin
Sotheby’s employees install Banksy’s shredded painting “Love is in the Bin” at Sotheby’s in September 2021

By Artland Editors

“The first work in history ever created during a live auction.”

Sotheby’s

The Street Artist Banksy is famous for his guerrilla art-making: since the early 1990s, he has been leaving his mark through spray-painted artworks all over the walls of cities around the world, from Bristol to Bethlehem. Banksy keeps his identity a secret, yet has become one of the most famous artists in the world over the years. His art frequently comments on and criticizes the capitalist consumerist society, social injustices and inequalities, and urgent socio-political matters such as the refugee crisis and the occupation of Palestine. Ironically, his artworks also fetch large sums of money on the secondary market: something Banksy brilliantly referenced in what was perhaps the ultimate art-world prank of the 21st century: Banksy’s 2018 shredded painting. 

“Some people think it didn’t really shred. It did. Some people think the auction house were in on it, they weren’t.”

Banksy
Girl with baloon; Banksy painting shredded at Sotheby's
The moment of shredding “Girl with Balloon”, which was then renamed “Love is in the Bin”, at Sotheby’s in 2018

Art or prank? The story of the half-shredded Banksy painting

Girl with Balloon depicts a girl reaching up towards a red, heart-shaped balloon. Originally stenciled on an East-London wall, this now-iconic figure and has been reproduced in many different places, making it one of Banksy’s best-known artworks. In 2018, a 2006 framed copy of the artwork was sold at auction at Sotheby’s. 

In what can be called a quintessential Banksy moment, the moment the hammer slammed down selling Girl with Balloon for $1.4 million, the work of art started to lower itself through a shredder built into the bottom of the frame. The bottom half of the painting was cut into strips, but it stopped shredding in time for the heart-shaped balloon to remain visible. As stunned auction-goers looked on and could barely believe what was happening, the moment became “instant art world history”. The whole contemporary art world was astonished. As stated by Sotheby’s after the fact, this was “the first work in history ever created during a live auction.” Initially, people wondered whether Sotheby’s had been in on the elaborate prank, but Banksy confirmed in a social media post that this was not the case, writing: “Some people think it didn’t really shred. It did. Some people think the auction house were in on it, they weren’t.”

According to a source who spoke with Artnet’s Kenny Schachter, someone from Banksy’s publicity team had contacted Sotheby’s to sell Girl with Balloon but came with strict stipulations for how the sale should take place. First, the painting had to be hung in the salesroom at the time of the sale; second, it had to be sold in the second part of the auction proceedings; and third, it was not to be removed from the frame at any time. While Sotheby’s denied this exact narrative, they did confirm that when asking the artist’s studio about removing the work from the frame during their cataloging process, they were expressly told not to. The frame, it was said, was integral to the work of art and glued to it. By breaking this, its artistic value could be negatively impacted. 

What happened next

In the end, the woman who had purchased the work agreed to keep the piece in its newly created state, renamed Love is in the Bin by Banksy. She later loaned the work to the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie, where the half-shredded piece by the legend of Street Art was on view between the gallery’s Old Masters and Modern Art masterpieces. “We want to ask for the relevance of the work in a long-time context, in contrast with the current hype of the art market,” a spokesperson of the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie said. “Are the ideas of Banksy strong enough to compete with key works of art history from Rembrandt to Duchamp and from Holbein to Picasso?”

Love is in the Bin: the new name that Banksy gave to his shredded painting
Banksy, Love is in the Bin. Courtesy Sotheby’s

Banksy shredded painting at auction again

The saga of Banksy’s shredded painting continues, as it made its return to Sotheby’s on 14 October 2021 and fetched the incredible sale price of £18,582,000, much more than its estimated value of £4m-£6m. This makes Banksy’s shredded painting, Love is in the Bin, not only the first work in history ever created during a live auction, but also the most expensive work of art ever created in an act of rebellious performance art at auction. 

Relevant sources to learn more

Explore Banksy artworks available for sale on Artland

Famous artists that destroyed their own work
Short history of art auctions
Art Pranks: Between Imaginary Artists And Sneaky Exhibitions

Wondering where to start?