Girl With Balloon, the half-shredded picture by anti-capitalist guerilla artist Banksy, has just fetched an eye-watering $34.3 million (£18.6 million) at a Sotheby’s auction today and honestly, dear buyer, are you okay hun?

The image – a simple graphic depicting a young girl holding onto a heart-shaped balloon – is an infamous piece of unintentional performance art. When Girl With Balloon first went under the hammer, a trick mechanism was set off and in front of a stunned crowd began to slide through a shredding machine hidden in the frame.
However, Banksy’s attempt to rob the original buyer of their prize didn’t quite make it because the shredder jammed and created something new altogether: a piece of art, half destroyed, the artist’s intentions foiled by faulty technology at the last moment.

Which brings us to today. And the resale of a mistake. Or a failed performance. Or a miracle. Depending on who you speak to, Girl With Balloon is all of these things.

Banksy’s Girl With Balloon. Image: Tristan Fewings/Getty

There’s something slightly disturbing about an artwork created by an artist whose entire oeuvre is dedicated to dismantling capitalist codes and attempting to peel back the veneer of profit-driven culture selling for more money than the majority of humans will ever see in their lifetime.

Some would call it irony. Others have suggested that it’s a clear indication that the art market has “lost the plot”. Maybe they’re right.

This is just the latest incident in a line of art world scandals that seem to be targeting collectors as the butt of an inside joke.

A close up of the shredded end. Credit: Sotheby’s

Back in 2011, Sydney-based artist Denis Beaubois took a $20,000 grant from the Australia Council and turned it into two piles of 100 uncirculated $100 banknotes. Beaubois sold this wad of cash for $17,500. Which, when the 22% buyer’s premium is added totaled to $21,350 – more than the physical money pile itself. 

More recently – last month actually – Danish artist Jens Haaning sent two blank canvases to a museum after he sold them for a charming little sum of $84,000 (AU$113,303). Titled “Take The Money And Run”.

The artist Haaning was pretty blunt in his assessment of the exchange: “The work is, I have taken their money.”

He sure did. And so has Banksy, it seems.

Although it’s no fault of the artist that his work has become caught up in the marketing machine that perpetuates art as a commodity, you have to wonder at what point will the irony surrounding Banksy’s work no longer be subversive but instead become a casualty of its own nihilism.

thoughts?