Paris auction house holds its breath ahead of Banksy sale after shredding

Paris auction house Artcurial braced itself Wednesday ahead of the sale of four works by Banksy, unsure what to expect following the enigmatic artist's shredding of a painting just moments after it went under the hammer.

Paris auction house holds its breath ahead of Banksy sale after shredding
Sotheby's employees pose with the newly completed work by artist Banksy entitled "Love is in the Bin". Photo: AFP
Artcurial said security would be tight for Wednesday evening's sale and that this time, no hidden shredding devices appeared to be concealed in the frames — but with Banksy, you just never know.
“We are going to be particularly vigilant. We've put security measures in place but we'll be looking to keep it discreet and as light as possible,” Arnaud Oliveux, the contemporary art specialist in charge of the sale, told AFP.
“There won't be 10 heavies in every room,” he added. 
Banksy, a British street artist whose identity is known to only a handful of friends, caused a sensation this month when one of his paintings began shredding itself, just after selling for $1.4 million (1.2 million euros).
Experts say “Girl with Balloon” is now probably worth even more because the stunt created such a massive media stir. 
A man stands near an artworks by street artist Banksy prior to an Artcurial French auction house sale at in Paris on October 18, 2018. Photo: AFP  
Oliveux predicted that if anything out of the ordinary happens in Paris, “it won't be a repeat” of the stunt that flabbergasted a room of champagne-sipping auction-goers at Sotheby's in London.
For one thing, the frames around the three paintings up for grabs are on the slender side, meaning it would be difficult to hide a shredding device of the kind used in London, which Banksy concealed under a thick wooden frame.
Background checks
Artcurial has nonetheless done background checks on attendees — not least after speculation that it may have been Banksy himself who triggered the shredding device inside the room at Sotheby's. 
“We've asked them to identify themselves, we've made a few enquiries,” Oliveux said.
The sale, which also features other celebrated street artists such as France's JR and US duo FAILE, includes three silkscreens by Banksy as well as a plastic statuette of a rat holding a paintbrush.
Oliveux acknowledged there was more interest in this sale than there would have been pre-shredding.
The Banksy works have been on show at Artcurial's elegant auction house on the Champs-Elysees roundabout, and many visitors have been pausing to take a 
People look at a recent artwork by anonymous street artist Banksy in Paris, on June 28, 2018. Photo: AFP 
As for the shredding of “Girl With Balloon” — now renamed “Love Is In The Bin” — Banksy has admitted things didn't go according to plan. 
He posted a video on YouTube showing it was supposed to have been fully shredded, and that during test-runs it worked perfectly each time.
But when the prank was finally carried out, only the bottom half of the painting shredded — because, he revealed, it got stuck.
The woman who had just bought the work for £1,042,000 — a female European collector whose identity has not been revealed — said she was stunned when the device began whirring into motion.
“I was at first shocked, but gradually I began to realise that I would end up with my own piece of art history,” Sotheby's quoted her as saying.
Alex Branczik, head of Sotheby's Contemporary Art in Europe, has meanwhile hailed the self-destructing painting as “the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction”.
“Banksy didn't destroy an artwork in the auction, he created one,” Branczik added. 

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IN DEPTH: How police reclaimed a stolen Bataclan Banksy in Italy

A stolen cutter, CCTV footage, phone taps, loose-tongued suspects... this is how an artwork by famed street artist Banksy painted on the door of the Bataclan club in Paris was discovered in Italy 18 months after being stolen.

IN DEPTH: How police reclaimed a stolen Bataclan Banksy in Italy
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) and French ambassador to Italy Christian Masset take part in a handover ceremony of the piece of art attributed to street artist Banksy, that was stolen at th

At 4:00 am on January 26, 2019, three men wearing hoodies and masks take a cutting tool to the metal door of the Bataclan.

It is not just any old door, but the emergency exit of the famous Parisian music venue where 90 people were murdered by Islamic State gunmen on November 13, 2015.

The stencilled white image is of a “sad young girl” in homage to the victims of the Bataclan attack.

It is all over in just a few minutes: the thieves load the door into the back of the Citroen van, whose number plate has been made illegible, according to captured CCTV footage.

“It was an important investigation” for the officers, some of whom had worked on the Bataclan attack, a source close to the case tells AFP.

By “honing in” on phones located in the vicinity of the Bataclan at the time and then along the route taken by the getaway van, tracked using surveillance cameras, police are able to identify and tap the lines.

A year later, police detain three men suspected of breaking into a DIY shop in the Isere department in southeastern France.

A cutting tool is among the stolen objects and one of the suspects boasts of having been involved in a break-in in Paris.

With a link now established between the suspects and the theft of Banksy's “the sad young girl”, police use wire-taps and surveillance to track down the receivers of the stolen artwork.

According to the investigators' findings, the artwork is taken to first to Isere, then to the south of France and from there on to Italy.

'Like trying to re-sell the Mona Lisa' 

In Italy, the painting is initially hidden in a hotel in Tortoreto, in the central region of Abruzzo. But when the hotel undergoes renovation work, it is relocated to an abandoned farm in Sant'Omero, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) away.

The hotel's owner, an acquaintance of one of the men suspected of receiving stolen goods, Mehdi Meftah, says he did not know what the bulky package contained.

Police decide to detain the whole gang, but the arrests are hampered by the coronavirus lockdown, the source tells AFP. In a joint operation with Italian police, the investigators seize “the sad young girl” in Abruzzo on June 10.

The attendant publicity forces police to speed up the arrests and a total of nine people are detained in France in the following days.

Two are charged with robbery in an organised gang and another four with receiving stolen goods, including Mehdi Meftah.


The 39-year-old, with his bouncer-like looks and tattoos, founded the luxury T-shirt brand “BL1.D”, which has an 18-carat gold ingot sewn into the neckline. He is suspected of ordering the theft.

“His accomplices say he wanted to keep the door for one of his houses,” says the source close to the investigation, acknowledging that trying to re-sell such an artwork would be “very difficult”.

“It would be like trying to re-sell the Mona Lisa,” his lawyer, Yves Sauvayre, tells the weekly newspaper, Journal du dimanche, denying his client had ordered the theft.

“He was presented with a fait accompli. He agreed to take the door in order accepted to help out old acquaintances.

He didn't pay a penny,” the lawyer says. At the moment, the artwork, handed back to France by the Italian authorities, is under seal and is being guarded by Paris police.