Examining all the auctions on the night of the Banksy shredder

Chart of all the Sotheby’s auctions on the night when Banksy's “Girl with Balloon” got shredded

A Banksy painting was shredded immediately after its auction ended. Apparently, the auction house Sotheby’s didn’t know this was going to happen—or did they?

Blogger Jason Bailey wrote a detailed analysis behind the Banksy shredder: Myth Busting Banksy. Was it a legit prank or complicit staging?

Bailey investigates some insightful points:

  1. Examining Banky’s frame
  2. The battery life in the frame
  3. Was it a functional shredder in the frame or just a spool? (he counts the number of blades in the shredder, and compares them to the number of shredded columns hanging from the frame)
  4. Didn’t Sotheby’s inspect the work?
  5. The Banksy was the last work auctioned.

This last point is an interesting one. The artwork just so happened to be the last one in the auction that night. Bailey explains why this is significant:

There were 67 lots in this auction, and the Banksy piece was the very last piece auctioned off. Had the Banksy piece been auctioned, say, 10th or 30th, the distraction from the beeper and the self-destructing work would certainly have interrupted the sales of many of the many other works sold that day. Sotheby’s reputation, their ROI, as well as the ROI for consigners, required that the Banksy piece be sold last.

Let’s look at Soethby’s website. They list all their auction results.

This particular auction happened on October 5, 2018 at 7:00pm BST in London, named “Contemporary Art Evening Auction“. It appears to have 40 lots, not 67. The numbering of the lots starts with #26. I don’t think lots #1-25 exist, along with lot #28. Or least Sotheby’s doesn’t list these lots on their site.

We’ll look at lots 26 to 67 sold on the night of the Banksy shredder auction.

Hopefully this table doesn’t get all messed up. If you can’t view the table, here’s a high-res visual graphic of the auctions. Analysis is below this table.

Lot numberArtistArt titleEstimate lowEstimate highSold forPercent over
26Amy SillmanPurple Thing200,000400,000298,00075%
27Richard SerraUntitled250,000350,000394,000113%
29Georg BaselitzOhne Titel (Der Neue Typ)450,000650,0001,150,000177%
30Georg BaselitzGrosse Nacht Im Eimer250,000350,000430,000123%
31Georg BaselitzOhne Titel (Kreuz)150,000200,000200,000100%
32Andy WarholJoseph Beuys (Diamond Dust)700,0001,000,000802,00080%
33Keith HaringUntitled700,000900,000910,000101%
34Richard PrinceUntitled (Cowboy)600,000800,0001,090,000136%
35
Christopher Wool
Untitled2,000,0003,000,0002,170,00072%
37Piero ManzoniAchrome600,000800,000850,000106%
38Lucio FontanaConcetto Spaziale, Attese2,400,0003,000,000
39
Enrico Castellani
Troika900,0001,200,000
40
Alexander Calder
Pads And Shoots2,200,0003,000,0002,170,00072%
41Cy TwomblyUntitled800,0001,200,0001,390,000116%
42Lucio FontanaConcetto Spaziale, Forma650,000850,0001,450,000171%
43Lucio FontanaConcetto Spaziale, Attese2,400,0003,000,0002,890,00096%
44Alighiero BoettiOnonimo1,000,0001,500,0001,210,00081%
45Luciano Fabro
Alluminio E Seta Naturale (Piede)
650,000850,000
46
Roy Lichtenstein
Pyramids2,000,0003,000,0002,530,00084%
47Sigmar PolkeUntitled250,000350,000538,000154%
48Georg BaselitzKopfkissen400,000600,0001,450,000242%
49Adrian GhenieBoogeyman2,000,0003,000,0004,851,900162%
50Anish KapoorParabolic Mirror, Asagi300,000400,000
51Franz WestPaukenschlag250,000350,000352,000101%
52
Christopher Wool
Double Brown Nose800,0001,200,000
53Pat SteirTyne Panorama 1500,000700,000550,00079%
54Cy TwomblyUntitled700,0001,000,0001,150,000115%
55Anish KapoorUntitled400,000600,000
56Rudolf StingelUntitled550,000750,000
57
Gotthard Graubner
Ohne Titel300,000400,000430,000108%
58Heinz Mack
Ohne Titel (Dynamische Struktur)
250,000350,000346,00099%
59Otto PieneRauchbild120,000180,000250,000139%
60
Enrico Castellani
Superficie Bianca350,000450,000586,000130%
61Alighiero Boetti
Oggi Trentunesimo Giorno Dell’ottavo
270,000320,000406,000127%
62Giulio PaoliniSouvenir (V)120,000180,000150,00083%
63Cy TwomblyUntitled400,000600,000502,00084%
64
Alexander Calder
Smeary400,000600,000
65Damien HirstBeautiful Autumn Painting200,000300,000298,00099%
66KawsAgain And Again250,000350,0001,030,000294%
67BanksyGirl With Balloon200,000300,0001,042,000347%

Analysis of the Sotheby’s auctions on the night when Banksy’s “Girl with Balloon” got shredded.

You’ll see the Banksy lot is at the very bottom. Lot #67. It sold WAY over the estimate 3.5 times as much! In fact, it exceeded the estimate more than any other lot in the auction that night.

How does the Banksy lot compare with the rest of the lots?

Artists in the auction

A breakdown of the artists and how many lots they had in this eventing auction:

  • Banksy (1)
  • Baselitz, Georg (4)
  • Boetti, Alighiero (2)
  • Calder, Alexander (2)
  • Castellani, Enrico (2)
  • Fabro, Luciano (1)
  • Fontana, Lucio (3)
  • Ghenie, Adrian (1)
  • Graubner, Gotthard (1)
  • Haring, Keith (1)
  • Hirst, Damien (1)
  • KAWS (1)
  • Kapoor, Anish (2)
  • Lichtenstein, Roy (1)
  • Mack, Heinz (1)
  • Manzoni, Piero (1)
  • Paolini, Giulio (1)
  • Piene, Otto (1)
  • Polke, Sigmar (1)
  • Prince, Richard (1)
  • Serra, Richard (1)
  • Sillman, Amy (1)
  • Steir, Pat (1)
  • Stingel, Rudolf (1)
  • Twombly, Cy (3)
  • Warhol, Andy (1)
  • West, Franz (1)
  • Wool, Christopher (2)

Banksy had only one piece in this show, so maybe Sotheby’s stuck him at the end. It’s his only piece, let’s make it grand! But many other artists had just one piece too.

Material/Medium

The auctions that night were listed as the following:

  • Acrylic on canvas (9)
  • Acrylic on paper (2)
  • Ink on Paper (1)
  • Mixed media (10)
  • Oil on canvas (11)
  • Oil on paper (1)
  • Other (2)
  • Paintings (1)
  • Photograph (1)
  • Photographs (1)
  • Sculptures (5)
  • Wood (1)
  • Works on paper (1)

Oddly enough, the auction description for this Banksy categorizes it as acrylic on canvas. Hmmm. Isn’t this paper?

Sotheby's caption: banksy girl with balloon caption acrylic on canvas

I’m not sure what to make of this. If you are selling something for 200,000 to 300,000 pounds; wouldn’t you make sure you get the medium correct? I certainly would not want to buy something thinking it was painting on canvas, but then it’s painted on paper.

UPDATE ONE DAY LATER:
Sotheby’s released a higher-resolution image of the shredded artwork. If you look closely at the black areas of the painting, you’ll see that it does indeed look like canvas! I am wrong about this being shredded paper.

Banksy shreds close up

Sotheby’s listing also said, “mounted on board”. Hmmm. Clearly this artwork was not mounted on a board. It was a loose sheet of canvas. I guess 200,000 to 300,000 pounds is considered not enough to be 100% accurate, so the auction house can be looser with the description.

Object/Type

Sotheby’s has this category called “Object/Type” and the following the quantity of each that night:

  • Abstract (31)
  • Figurative (8)
  • Figure (5)
  • Landscape (1)
  • Other (2)
  • Portrait (1)

Banksy’s artwork here is considered to be “Figurative”. Eight of those pieces. A whopping 31 are abstract. I suppose having all those abstract works are the nature of a “Contemporary Art Evening Auction“.

Estimates

  • Auctions with the lowest estimate: £120,000 (Otto Piene and Giulio Paolini)
  • Auctions with the highest estimate: £3 million (Adrian Ghenie, Roy Lichtenstein, Christopher Wool, Alexander Calder, Lucio Fontana)
  • Median of the low estimates: £425,000
  • Median of the high estimates: £625,000

Banksy had a low estimate of £200,000 and a high estimate of £300,000. Estimate summary: Banky’s piece is well below the median of all the others. 

Sold price

  • Highest sold: £4,851,900 (Adrian Ghenie’s “Boogeyman”)
  • Lowest sold: £150,000 (Giulio’s “Paolini Souvenir (V)”)

Sold price summary: Banksy’s sold price is £1,042,000. Pretty nice. But it’s the 13th highest price of the 32 auctions that sold. 

Exceeding the estimate price

20% of the auctions didn’t sell (8).
80% of the auctions did sell (32).

Of the 32 auctions that sold:

  • 12 sold for less than the high estimate.
  • 1 sold for the exact high estimate.
  • 19 sold for higher than the high estimate.

The lowest under estimate is Alexander Calder “Pads And Shoots” estimated high at £3,000,000. It sold for £2,170,000. That’s 72% less.

The median percentage over the high estimate is 107%.

Summary of exceeding estimate price: The Banksy sold the most over the high estimate. 347% higher. £1,042,000 over the £300,000.

The painting before Banksy’s in the auction

What was the painting sold right before the Banksy? That might be curious.

The painting auctioned before the Banksy shredder painting

It’s a giant image of Spongebob Squarepants! Wow. What a bold image. At first thought, it seems to make sense. Like Banksy, KAWS is also a graffiti artist. Putting him before Banksy is logical. However, look at the painting in the context of a gallery:

Installation view of KAWS "Again and Again"

This painting is laughing and leering over to the side. This painting is laughing at what about is to happen!!! The look on Spongebob’s face is totally the look when Spongebob is in on the joke.

And the title, “Again and Again.” As if it’s saying Banksy is at his tricks, again and again.

You know what’s also interesting? That painting before the Banksy sold for 294% of its high estimate. Would the buyer maybe know that this Spongebob painting was a tipoff to what would become one of the world’s greatest art pranks ever?

Sotheby’s possibly gave a great foreshadowing tipoff. The Spongebob painting auctioned right before Banksy’s painting, hinted that a prank was about to happen.

The auctioneer’s body language

Look at the auctioneer after he hit his gavel (youtube). He looked over at the painting/print to see it shred.

I’m kinda reading into it, but it seems like he’s looking at the painting waiting, “and now, it will shred”. It was acted out, so people would turn and look.

banksy auctioneer leans foward

Granted, auctioneers do have perform up in front of the audience for every auction. That’s kinda the job of an auctioneer.

UPDATE ONE WEEK LATER:
Banksy released a new video. It includes more of the auctioneer’s body language. That little hop and turn to the painting was just his glee of the painting selling for so much. A few more seconds actually passed after his reaction until the painting got shredded. After viewing Banksy’s video, I’m pretty convinced that Sotheby’s didn’t know that the prank will happen—or at least, the auctioneer didn’t know. 

Renaming the artwork

Banksy goes ahead and renames the artwork after it shreds. “Love is in the Bin”. On the surface this name furthers the idea that the art market ruins the nature of art by commoditizing it. The art market takes love, emotion, and art; and throws it into the garbage.

However, a deeper analysis into the process of renaming the artwork reveals the contrary. Banksy destroyed the artwork. He shredded the piece to say, “Screw you art world! Don’t sell my art! I’m going to make it self-destruct!”

That’s his notion. It’s destroyed. Shredded.

But now Banksy renames the piece. Sooooo, it’s still art? It’s not destroyed? Giving the artwork a new name says the artwork lives on. The artwork still has value! The value is not gone. The artwork still exists, and is still valuable. In fact, many people say the value has now doubled. Which is pretty incredible considering that the artwork sold for 3.5x the estimated price. And now on top of the 3.5x winning bid, the artwork is worth DOUBLE? That’s SEVEN times the original high estimate. Absolutely incredible. Genius.

Does Banksy see this artwork as more valuable? The “anti-establishment” version of Banksy would say this artwork has no value.

But the cooperative version of Banksy would say this artwork is now worth more. In fact, let’s give it a new name to match it’s new identity. And that’s what Banksy did. He gave the artwork a new name.

Even Sotheby’s is going along with this line. The artwork wasn’t destroyed. It was CREATED.

Alex Bancik, European Head of Contemporary Art, Sotheby’s, had this to say on Instagram:

Alex Bancik, European Head of Contemporary Art, Sotheby's on Banksy.jpg

Let’s end the speculation and crazy conspiracy stories. Banksy didn’t destroy an artwork during our Evening sale last week; he created one. This is the newly titled Love Is In the Bin, 2018. Were we in on it? Absolutely not. Do you really think Banksy, who spent his youth stencilling walls in Bristol and dodging the local authorities, would want to collaborate with the art establishment? Where’s the subversion in that? Come on, you should all know better. Come and see the finished painting (and see if you can spot the shredder) this weekend at Sotheby’s New Bond Street.

Alex Bancik makes a great point. Most likely, they were not in on the prank. However, why would Sotheby’s want to end any speculation? Doesn’t the speculation fuel the value of this artwork?

What do you take away from this?

The Banksy sold for very well over the estimate. This seems to tip in the favor of Sotheby’s and possible one of the bidders knowing about the upcoming prank.

Or was this piece just really desirable on its own? Maybe Sotheby’s knew that this Banksy had the potential to sell for a lot more than its estimate, so they stuck it at the end of the auction.

I really don’t know how Sotheby’s orders their auctions. Do they put lots at the end that they think will sell for well over the estimate? Or did Sotheby’s know the prank will happen? And perhaps maybe one of the bidders had insight too? 3.5x the value. That’s kinda crazy, right?

I’m fine if Sothebys knew about it. At this point, Banksy is not anti-establishment. The auction house sells his work, he shreds the work. It’s funny. And if Sotheby’s didn’t know about it, then that’s cool too.

What do you think?

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