The subversive graffiti artist Banksy began selling his work at the beginning of the 21st century. This was not seen then as an attempt to join the mainstream art world. It may even be surmised that the artist, considering the anti-establishment nature of his work, did not imagine the acclaim his pieces would be greeted with in the years to follow. Today, even signed prints of his work are expensive. His artistic expressions have been embraced by both the masses and the elite of society.
The Commercial Value Of Banksy Original Art
In 2000, Bristol’s Severnshed witnessed the first “official” instance of Banksy original art for sale. A lot of people who bought some of his work then were pleasantly surprised a number of years later when the value of the pieces they acquired increased by several-fold. For example, a woman who received Banksy’s Monkey Detonator as a gift from her father experienced such a surprise. It was bought at the price of 250 (approximately $400) then. Today, it is estimated to be around 50,000 ($80,000).
Today, many people who go to auctions that include the artist’s work generally expect to pay at least $150,000. Anything below that is considered a bargain. His work typically sells at least twice its initial estimated value. Even signed prints are rather pricy. Some cost a staggering $37,500, such as his 20 inches by 28 inches limited edition screen print entitled “Napalm.”
Banksy’s Most Expensive Pieces
The artist’s most expensive work so far is “Keep It Spotless.” This is his defaced version of Damien Hirst’s “Pharmaceutica.” It was auctioned off in 2008 through Sotheby’s for $1,870,000. This amount is more than five times its initial estimate. In the same auction, another painting of his, “Simple Intelligence Testing,” also sold for more than a million dollars.
Banksy’s works have also been sold through other auction houses like Christie’s and Bonham’s. The “cheapest” of his top 25 artworks was sold for nearly 150,000 (about $230,000). This places his art beyond the means of the common man and into the realm that only collectors can afford.
Fakes And eBay
Many enterprising individuals have made use of eBay to sell Banksy’s graffiti. Many of these are works he has painted on the walls of the places he visited. Some are even humorously labeled as murals with homes attached. One of the most talked about in 2008 is the million-dollar West London graffiti purportedly done by the artist. It occupied a large part of the wall, about ten feet by seven feet. This piece however has not been authenticated. Also, it was not featured in Banksy’s website, so whether this piece was in fact his is in doubt.
Two years earlier, two forgers were able to scam a significant number of people into buying artwork they claimed to be Banksy’s but were actually made by themselves. Several of the victims asserted that eBay does not evict these people because they happen to bring “good” business to the site. Even those that are said to have a Certificate of Authenticity cannot be trusted as truly authentic. The buyer definitely has to be careful when purchasing from eBay.
Another sad aspect of the high value of Banksy artwork is the theft of his graffiti pieces from the streets. In the eyes of the law, these are not considered theft, as the graffiti was illegally painted on the wall in the first place. Many of his art have been taken from the communities they were meant to grace. In a recent high-profile case, the thief took Banksy’s “Sperm Alarm” from its place on the wall of a four-star hotel in sometime in April 2011. The hotel personnel only noticed it missing when they saw it being sold on eBay. The thief was caught and was not able to sell the piece. He was, however, allowed to walk by the court because his act of hacking the graffiti was not considered theft.
In response to the many fake pieces popping up everywhere, Banksy formed a group, Pest Control, to handle authentication for him. Those who would like to verify whether a piece was indeed done by the artist may reach them by filling out a form on their website. They verify pieces the artist did intend to sell, and their standard response to graffiti taken from the walls and streets of various communities is that these were not intended to be sold. Thus, authentication is declined for these. Those they do authenticate are awarded a Pest Control Certificate. Because art dealers require such certificates, the value of graffiti stolen from the community they were “gifted” decreased.
Another group called “Vermin” was formed because collectors did not desire such depreciation of their expensive purchases. This group is not connected with Banksy. It does, however, have a panel of experts and works with other contemporary art consultants to authenticate and verify work as Banksy’s. This is seen by many as a move by collectors to protect their investment. It runs counter, unfortunately, to the reason why the artist does not authenticate “stolen” street graffiti.
Even Copies Have Value
Due to the high price of Banksy original art for sale, prints of various known Banksy artwork can be enjoyed online through sites like Stencil Revolution’s Banksy Art Vault. Even more sites sell such prints for profit. They cost a goodly amount of money depending on the size ordered but are easier on the pocket of most art lovers.
These prints are valued by the people who purchase them not just because they were done by a popular modern street artist. The message and the humor used to depict it is what make these valuable as home or office decoration. The controversy and colorful history of both the artist and his work make for excellent conversation starters during special occasions. It is in this manner that the common man enjoys Banksy’s art and considers it precious indeed.