Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Banksy and the Art Market: The Downside of Anonymity


Being anonymous has its perks (not getting arrested for vandalism, for instance) but also its complications. For Banksy, it means that there are exhibitions in his name all over the world, raking in no doubt millions of dollars, in which he has no part—hustlers exhibiting work borrowed from collectors, charging up to $49 for admission, while putting up banners with his name on it along the city streets. Banksy has no control over what’s exhibited or how it’s exhibited—nor can he claim any of the income or confirm that the work is indeed genuine. Recently I met a Banksy fan in his 80s, who was going on rapturously about a Banksy exhibition he saw in Amsterdam; I didn’t have the heart to tell him Banksy had nothing to do with it. And in Israel I met a Palestinian artist who was annoyed that Banksy would put on an exhibition in Tel Aviv just as he was opening his hotel in Palestinian Bethlehem, to whom I had to explain that the two weren’t related.

Nor do journalists get it, as in the Euronews coverage of a current 4 ½ month exhibition in Lisbon that read: “The anonymous artist includes his distinctive stencilling technique, sculptors [sic], videos and photographs. This exhibition has already been to Moscow and Madrid attracting more than 600,000 people.”

But no doubt the worst is having one’s work “interpreted” by a “curator” as in, “He is a messenger, he is not somebody who can solve anything, he is not somebody who has the power to solve a problem, he is just showing us the problem, he is a messenger that gives us the message of guys. We have to stop somehow and think about it and then do something about it."  Oh geez.

Even Forbes (which repeats the myth of Banksy’s supposed $20M net worth as if it were fact) seems to find a contradiction in Banksy’s deprecation of the auction market—as when, after three of his works sold in the six figures, Banksy posted a cartoon of an auctioneer selling a framed canvas painted with the words” I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit,” which was in line with his recent painting-shredding caper at Sotheby’s. Few outside the art world (I guess, including Forbes) understand that artists themselves don’t gain when work is sold at auction—but everything is sold on consignment by previous owners, who get all the profit. And while some insist Banksy gains because it inflates the value of the artworks he does sell…well, that might be true if he actually sold stuff. However, since 2008 Banksy has had no commercial gallery representation and has not made anything for the market except some prints for charity. Currently the only way you can buy a Banksy, is to be a guest of his Bethlehem hotel where the tiny bookstore sells unlimited edition prints and small sculptures in the $150-$300 range. Bring your suitcase! And then pray they get through the checkpoint at the wall going back into Israel…but that’s another story.

Banksy, in his website , is clear, listing exhibitions in 19 countries as “Fake” adding : Banksy is NOT on Facebook, Twitter or represented by Steve Lazarides [his former dealer and one of the “fake” exhibition organizers] or any other commercial gallery.”
Pledge to the Kickstarter campaign for my book-in-progress, Banksy: Completed, to be published by The MIT Press in late 2020. Find it here.

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