Love is in the Bin, the iconic Banksy image of a girl with a heart balloon – but with a twist.
Half the painting is shredded, the strips dangling beneath the picture frame.
The artwork was originally titled ‘Girl With Balloon’, but some typical Banksy mischief changed all that one day in October 2018.
It had just been sold as the final lot of a Sotheby’s auction in London.
But a hidden shredder concealed within the frame kicked into life.
The packed auction room watched in confusion – and perhaps a little horror – as the painting was slowly cut into pieces.
Emma Baker, a contemporary art specialist at Sotheby’s, was head of sale on that fateful night.
She recalls the moment that stunned the art world.
“The hammer came down and all of a sudden we heard this beeping noise. It wasn’t a Sotheby’s alarm. So we were all like ‘what’s going on?’ And everybody was sort of out of their seats, phones in the air, sort of hands over mouths,” she says.
“I looked over, and I was standing on the phone banks at the time, looked over and the picture looked like it had fallen half out of the frame. And it wasn’t until a bit later that we realised that it actually shredded.”
The painting sold for just over £1 million ($1.4 million), way above its £200,000 to £300,000 guide estimate, before it was shredded.
That was a record for the artist.
But demand for Banksy has soared since then.
His work now regularly commands prices in the millions, with a painting honouring the work of the British health care service selling for a record $20 million earlier this year.
The collector who won the auction back in 2018 opted to keep the artwork, despite its altered state.
That seems to have been a financially shrewd decision as Sotheby’s think Love is in the Bin will sell for significantly more when it’s auctioned next month.
“This work is coming back to auction with an estimate of £4 to 6 million pounds, which is the highest estimate ever placed on a Banksy at auction,” says Baker.
“But if you’re looking at it in the grand scheme of high prices for Banksy in the last three years, it still looks attractive, it looks conservative when you’re weighing it up against these pieces, because it is probably his most famous artwork.”
Sotheby’s insist it was not in on the 2018 shredder prank.
And Banksy has form for this kind of guerrilla performance art.
He secretly stencilled a rat on a wall at Sotheby’s during a Damien Hirst exhibition in 2004, and he’s hung unauthorised artworks everywhere from the British Museum in London to the Louvre in Paris.
Sotheby’s don’t expect any tricks when Love is in the Bin is auctioned next month.
But surely another Banksy stunt will happen one day?
“Never say never, it’s Banksy, you can’t predict a thing and it’s just what he does,” says Baker.
“He played us last time. I’m sure he could probably do it again. Who knows?”
The half-shredded artwork Love is in the Bin will be auctioned by Sotheby’s on October 14 in London.