Adele Smejkal Talks about Her Job at Sotheby´s and Banksy´s Art Shredding Stunt

9 January 2021

Adele Smejkal Talks about Her Job at Sotheby´s and Banksy´s Art Shredding Stunt

For almost three years I worked as a Client Liaison at Sotheby’s Bids Office in London. I collected the bidding requests and then communicated the overall interest in the sale to the specialist department. During the sale, I would be in the saleroom, either on the phone bidding with clients or next to the auctioneer as a sale clerk. Then I would make sure all the necessary data is correct to close the sale.

The most exciting part of my job was traveling. When I was in Mumbai for an Indian auction, an elderly woman unexpectedly rose from the audience shouting 'stop!'. She came onto the stage where the auctioneer and I were sitting, informing us that she was a mistress of the artist and that the abstract nude on the picture is, in fact, her.

Another extraordinary situation I experienced was the self-destruction of Banksy´s "Girl with Balloon" at the end of our contemporary art auction in October 2018. I was trying to resolve some issues with the previous lot when I noticed my colleagues were stunned into shock by something. Thinking, ‘damn what did I miss?!’, I ran into the packed saleroom where they stood and it was utter chaos. I could see the handlers taking the shredded artwork down from the wall to examine what had happened. There was a shredder installed in the frame to self-destruct the art piece after being sold for just over £1m.

According to the contemporary art team, the consigner had given very unusual requirements for handling the artwork such as: ‘don’t touch and examine the frame’ and ‘the work needs to be the last lot of the sale and placed in the saleroom’. However, despite these instructions, they were really interested in consigning the artwork. If there truly was prior knowledge of what was going to happen, I am sure it would have leaked. Rumours spread fast in companies like Sotheby's.

That weekend was crazy, people queued outside on the street to see the shredded "Girl with Balloon". The global exposure that this event received was immense. It was a performance that transformed the artwork into a conceptual piece of art which has since become part of art history. I believe the artwork would be worth twice the price now.

Nevertheless, to clarify what is the most important - I love art for art, not for the monetary value which it can have, or for the frenzy of the crazy art market. I love how art makes me feel and how much I can learn from it, not just about the individual artists but also about culture, society, and the world. This is also why I have launched my own art business, an online gallery called Artistellar which stages curated exhibitions online. I focus on emerging or early-career artists and on helping them gain significance in the art world.

Adele Smejkal, former Client Liaison Manager at Sotheby’s Bids Office and Founder of the Artistellar