Banksy and art market - if we juxtapose the price of his artwork on the market and the fact that he didn't start with the idea to earn incredible sums of money in the first place, it leaves us with several questions. The movie which showed the phenomenon to a wider audience as a novum, already created a large shift in the contemporary art market. The basic message pointing to art and activism, jolted the prices of artworks by the artist who (at least, initially) didn’t want all of it being about money. The more you think about it, you realize it is a mind bender: a subculture, condemned as a populist take on art, started occupying high places on auctions and quickly being appropriated by those who had labeled it a lesser form of art. So, why is this important? We could spend hours discussing the aesthetical dimension of Banksy’s work, but, whatever our opinions and conclusions might be, one thing is certain – his presence on the art market could help us understand the aspects of street art potential within the market of contemporary art. However, before this, we must ask ourselves: what are the attributes of this presence?
Many might say that there are more inspiring and exciting occurrences in the world of urban art then those which concern Banksy, but the year behind us tells a different story. Ever since the artist’s residency in New York, we have been enjoying the rollercoaster ride of various Banksy related action. It seems as though the story about the art always comes with another discourse conveying either a heartwarming tale of good-heartedness or strange cases of lost and found, even destruction, hype and mystery. Not long ago, the Broad Plain youth club was saved by a letter from Banksy and the sale of the now cult Mobile Lovers piece. On the other hand, the curious emergence of an old Banksy stencil at a home of a school teacher gave us a glimpse at his original piece from the beginning of the century. Finally, just recently, the entire community of urban art devotees had been shaken by the hype concerning Banksy’s arrest and new artwork which appeared in the UK (for more on this story, check out our feature article O Banksy, Wherefore Art Thou Banksy?). The fact that Banksy hasn’t created many canvases in the period of last five years, combined with the realization that collectors are simply not selling pieces, leaves the new and emerging potential buyers all over the world trapped in a stalemate art market situation. However, the question is, to what extent does all of this affect the market of Banksy pieces? The trouble is, a conclusive answer is hardly on the horizon.
Perhaps just like any other, the market of contemporary art holds uncertainties which can be, many a times, unfathomable. This can especially be said for the Banksy artwork market. A large part of the reasons behind this kind of situation, come from the artist himself and the extraordinary practices which surround his work. In this regard, we are faced with a series of dubious questions which transpire into three most important ones when it comes to tendencies within this artist's market: Is it possible that anonymity still plays a crucial role? What do the figures from the previous year show? What will happen after New York?
It is not news that much of the merit ascribed to his work comes from the artist anonymity. It is hard to say whether there is something more that experienced and respected collectors know – perhaps there is some not yet understandable potential residing in the artist’s practice. Even today, after numerous testimonies (be it from Shephard Fairey, Mr. Brainwash or Steve Lazarides), a big part of the public, as well as art enthusiasts, ask themselves – what if it is not a “he”, but a “she”, or even “them”? It seem that this question never gets old, and for a good reason. Numerous gallerists and contemporary art experts have explained that buyers love Banksy’s work because they want to buy not only artwork, but the story of an individual who had transformed the core of contemporary art.
But there are certainly more simple explanations. Should one choose to be driven by the notion of Occam’s razor, it becomes clear that we are not facing questions concerning identity or complexities of postmodern narratives, but rather something quite clear. For example, if we look at the cost of street art removal and the fact that there is no certificate of authenticity, this can prove to be crucial for an auctioneer or collector. Whatever the case, submerged in layers of uncertainty or quite simple, the figures do not lie. For example, Submerged Phone Booth was sold for £722,500 during Phillips Contemporary Art Evening. In the recent period, his prints, stencils and sculptures have gone for a combined sum of $4.67 million, rendering 2014 to be the best year for the artist since its last peak seven years ago.
Certainly, the residency in New York affected the patterns in the art market when it comes to Banksy’s pieces. The pieces that the artist had sold for merely $60 in Central Park last year reached prices somewhere between $60,000 $120,000. On the other hand, the art pieces, featured in the most recent documentary on the artist’s New York residency, remain unsold. However, people from Keszler Gallery (which have acquired five pieces, including the Sphinx sculpture) do not seem to be worried. In fact, Stephan Keszler asserts that it is only a matter of time and that there is no issue with waiting when it comes to potentially expensive works. Finally, yet again, we are left without a certain answer to our initial question(s) – perhaps the aftermath of the world premiere of Banksy Does New York shows us a light on the path of unraveling the never-ending mystery of street art’s Robin Hood…
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