“I love Banksy’s art. It’s iconic and powerful and makes me laugh”, said singer Robbie Williams, who will part with three Banksy paintings in March with the help of Sotheby’s. Vandalism, irony at its highest level, and of course, hip-hop culture… Banksy epitomises everything that has made him not only one of the biggest stars of contemporary art over the years, but also a firm favourite with art collectors, and even today, we’re not sure who he is.
Although we are talking about a street artist who displays his art on publicly visible surfaces, walls and self-built physical props, he does not sell photographs or reproductions, but regularly resells his public “installations” through his own agency, Pest Control, often even removing the wall on which he has painted them. Since his emergence, his art has been criticised by many as glorifying blatant vandalism, yet just slightly anarchist enough to be deified by the middle-class hipster cohort.
To be a big star, surround yourself with big stars, in our case: sell to stars! Robbie Williams wasn’t the first to quickly grasp the importance of the artist to contemporary culture. Christina Aguilera bought a painting of Queen Victoria as a lesbian in 2006 for 25,000 GBP. In less than a few months, Sotheby’s sold a series of paintings of Kate Moss by Andy Warhol, painted in the style of Marilyn Monroe, for a record price, five times the estimated price. The following year, Hollywood’s dream couple of the time, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, sold 1 million GBP of Banksy’s work, while Drake, Justin Bieber, and Bono are regular buyers.
Love in the Bin
Love is in the Bin made history in 2018 by being destroyed in the middle of an auction. The original piece, a picture of a girl holding a balloon, aptly titled “Girl with a Balloon”, fetched 1.4 million USD at auction, but soon afterwards, an alarm broke out. Sotheby’s staff and the auction audience were shocked, to say the least, when the painting slipped through the ornate gold frame, grinding it into a shredder built into the bottom of the frame, and then jamming halfway through. At first, Sotheby’s were baffled – saying they knew nothing of Banksy’s plan – but later, they chalked it up to history in the making, as it was the first time a work of art had actually been created at auction. They certainly convinced the public, as last autumn the painting was resold, with nine people fighting for about 10 minutes before an anonymous collector, represented by Nick Buckley Wood, won the auction. The knockdown price ended up much higher than the estimated value (5.5-8.2 million USD) at 25.4 million USD, eighteen times the previous price, and less than three years had passed. Incidentally, the work was exhibited alongside classical masters at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart in Germany for 11 months in 2019-20 before the pandemic, attracting around 180,000 visitors during that time.
It’s safe to say that today, it’s not just “street art” fans who are impressed by the boldness, diversity and, of course, impact of Banksy’s work. His success has also had an impact on other street artists, who not only receive inspiration but also publicity, meaning that Banksy’s popularity is, to some extent, their success. The question is whether this impact will be enough for them to take this fame on board, or whether Banksy will eventually remain a lonely comet, since it was he who rode the wave and brought street art into “high-end” culture, and he is long gone… And young upstarts don’t necessarily want to spend on Picasso or Chagall. Rather, they want to buy things that are relevant to their own lives, lifestyles, and cultures.