Which work of art becomes far more valuable after it is damaged by the artist—whose identity, as it happens, is unknown?
This riddle only has one answer: Banksy’s Love Is in the Bin (2018), which sold on Thursday evening in London for £18.6 million ($25.4 million), setting a new record for the anonymous street artist.
Almost three years ago to the day, the work became a global sensation in the same salesroom. Mere moments after the original work, Girl With Balloon, sold for a then-record £1 million ($1.4 million), it promptly self-destructed as a shredder hidden inside the frame activated, slicing the bottom half of the picture.
Banksy took ownership of the stunt soon after and released a viral video revealing that the work was supposed to shred entirely, but the mechanism malfunctioned during the sale. He issued it a new certificate of authenticity and gave it a new name: Love is in the Bin.
This week, the anonymous buyer of that work, said to be a European woman, put it back on the block at Sotheby’s, where it was expected to fetch between £4 million and £6 million ($5.5 million and $8.2 million). It ended up selling for considerably more than that—three times the high estimate and 18 times what she paid for it three years ago.
Nine people chased the work for more than 10 minutes, according to Sotheby’s. The successful bidder was a collector in Asia, the auction house said.
Banksy’s auction market has exploded over the past year. His top three auction prices have all been set in 2021. In the first seven months of the year, his work generated $125.5 million on the block, making him the fifth best-selling artist, according to the Artnet Price Database. Notably, that total is almost as much as his work has generated at auction in all previous years combined.
Banksy’s market success has been driven by a dramatic increase in the volume of his works at auction (it spiked almost 320 percent over the past five years), as well as an increase in the value of his work (his average price has grown 675 percent since 2016).
While an artist like Monet doesn’t have enough material available to enable this kind of glut, Banksy has a robust secondary market for his prints, as well as for his harder-to-come-by paintings.
Love Is in the Bin is arguably Banksy’s most famous work (it’s definitely his most famous work not attached to a wall). During the now-legendary sale in 2018, the image began slipping through a shredder secretly built into the bottom of the frame seconds after the hammer came down.
Although there was intense speculation that Sotheby’s was in on the prank—particularly since the work was the final lot of the sale, acting as a sort of culmination—both the artist and auction house insisted Sotheby’s had been kept in the dark.
The shredded work later went on view at Stuttgart Staatsgalerie, which originally said it would keep it on permanent loan. A representative for the museum did not immediately respond to Artnet News’s request for comment about the fate of that deal.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Sotheby’s went to great lengths ahead of this sale to make sure Banksy was not planning any additional funny business. They weighed the framed canvas to make sure there were no hidden components and double checked that the batteries had been removed from the shredder.