“It appears we just got Banksy-ed”: so said Alex Branczik, a Sotheby’s senior director.

As The Wall Street Journal reports:

Banksy, the anonymous British street artist famous for his eye-catching political spoofs, has pulled a £1 million prank on a buyer of one of his own works.

The framed “Girl With Balloon,” a stencil-spray-painted piece from 2006, was auctioned at Sotheby’s in central London. Moments after it was sold to an unnamed buyer for £1.04 million ($1.4 million), the canvas passed through a shredder that appeared to be hidden inside the frame, emerging underneath in thin strips.

Watch the video.

There’s an interesting thread on the subject at MarginalRevolution, started by a post by Alex Tabarrok. A point widely made is that Banksy “pranked the art market“. I suppose it depends on what actually people were buying.

If they were bidding for a painting, they are certainly disappointed, and I suppose Sotheby’s shall work out some way of dealing with them, perhaps even avoiding cashing their bid in.

But this assumes that those who bid for a Banksy piece are actually people wanting a nice picture to hang in their bedroom. I guess this is not likely to be the case. While the winning bidder is not yet disclosed, I suppose she is the kind of person who already has all her house’s walls fit with what she considers the best of contemporary art production, an Ai Weiwei’s sculpture in the dining room and a Tony Cragg’s in a guest room. Was she bidding for a specific piece of art, or—say—for a sensation, for the thrill of betting on Bansky, a street artist turned so fashionable to be priced at these humongous prices? In the late new world sense hasn’t Banksy given her exactly what she wanted, in an unprecedented and surprising way? This has clearly “pranked” the newsworld, perhaps not to the detriment of Sotheby’s, either. They and Bansky share this enormous publicity. I see that may be the reason for them scrapping the bill of the bidder. Though if her name comes out, she may enjoy too a virtually endless round of interviews in the global media.

With this, I do not mean to say rich people buying this sort of stuff are crazy. I just want to say that they may not be into buying ‘pictures’ but something else: positional goods, for sure. Does it need to be a physical good? In a sense they are buying the ticket for a club, a movement that reinvents tastes and conventional ideas about what’s beautiful. Being part of a performance like Banksy’s has its own excitement, for people who deeply care about this: perhaps it is far more exciting as it produces a greater satisfaction than holding a picture. I’d love to read Virginia Postrel on this subject.