Three years ago, almost to the week, one of Banksy’s Girl with Balloon paintings was half-shredded by remote control during a live auction at Sotheby’s in London. According to the catalogue listing, the painting had been “executed in 2006” and given by the artist to the consignor, who, it was believed, was Banksy’s publicist Jo Brooks.
But question marks hang over whether the painting was actually created in 2006. The shredded work, now titled Love is in the Bin, is back on the block on Thursday at Sotheby’s, which installed the work in the run up to the sale behind perspex in a dark room—to dramatic effect. The anonymous German consignor, who bought it for £1m in 2018, is hoping it will fetch £4m-£6m. Sources say the owners have rejected a guarantee towards the top end of the estimate.
“You can see the evolution when you put the stencil in a line chronologically. It’s clearly a newer work”Jamie Scanlon, UK street artist
Adding to the intrigue surrounding the work, the new provenance details make no mention of the original painting being executed in 2006. The catalogue simply states it was a “gift from the artist to a private collection”, and that the piece was “completed in 2018”.
According to the UK street artist Jamie Scanlon, Sotheby’s Girl with Balloon is far closer in style to other versions created between 2016 and 2018. “You can see the perfect evolution when you put the stencil in a line chronologically,” he says. “For me, it’s the elephant in the room. It’s clearly a newer work.”
“Impossible to prove”
The London dealer Robin Barton, who specialises in Bansky works, believes it is “very likely but impossible to prove” that the canvas was created a lot later than 2006, and possibly as late as between 2016 and 2018. “It is inconceivable to me that a work from 2006 could be adapted to suit the rigours of the shredding stunt of 2018,” he says.
Of the 2006 date, Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s chairman of modern and contemporary art in Asia, says: “What we sold [in 2018] was catalogued based on the certificate of authenticity produced by [Banksy’s authenticating body] Pest Control. If you’ve got any questions about that, you should address them to Pest Control.”
Neither Pest Control nor Jo Brooks responded to a request for comment.
“The point is, the work we are now selling is not the same work,” Branzcik adds. “This work was created on 5 October 2018 in the Sotheby’s saleroom and it has never been available for public sale.”
According to another London-based dealer of Banksy’s works who thinks Sotheby’s Girl With Balloon “could have been created later than 2006”, there are other versions of Love is in the Bin in existence. Branczik acknowledges that other shredded canvases do exist but describes them as “test runs”. He says: “They don’t have the frame, they aren’t performance pieces, and they aren’t called Love is in the Bin, or if they are, they might be called Test Run for Love is in the Bin. How many of those are genuine test runs, or whether [Banksy] made them afterwards, that’s a question you’d have to take up with Pest Control.”
The real question now is whether the stunt will backfire on Banksy and Sotheby’s—or whether a new record for the artist could be in the making. As Barton says: “It could either make a really high price or people will sit on their hands.”