Collecting Banksy: Insights from Forum Auctions

In tandem with our continued partnership with Forum Auctions, we spoke with Chief Executive Officer Stephan Ludwig and Head of Prints and Editions Rupert Worrall about highlights from their upcoming sale featuring a selection of works by the sought-after street artist.

  • Stephan Ludwig, Chief Executive Officer

    Stephan Ludwig, Chief Executive Officer

  • Rupert Worrall, Head of Prints and Editions

    Rupert Worrall, Head of Prints and Editions

Artsy: What are your favorite works in this sale?  Can you share some interesting stories around some of the lots?

Rupert Worrall: From a purely uncontroversial and aesthetic perspective, Girl With Balloon (sometimes referred to as Balloon Girl) always lives up to its accolade of having been voted ‘Britain’s favourite artwork’ earlier this year. We have both the unsigned and rarer signed edition in the sale (Lots 12 and 37).

RW (cont.): Of the more seriously messaged and politically controversial pieces, I find Watchtower (Lot 31) particularly interesting. Taking to one side it’s rarity, being one of 15 of the only wood sculpture edition ever produced by the artist, it was released in 2007 for Santa’s Ghetto, his first exhibition in Bethlehem. His continuing interest in Palestine was reinforced earlier this year with his establishment of the Walled Off Hotel, a not-for-profit dedicated art hotel. The associated box-set (Lot 32), depicting a watchtower as a children’s carousel, is his most recently published multiple.

Stephan Ludwig : One of the many ‘unique’ editions in the sale, Gold Flag (Lot 9), bears the dedication ‘4 Ben ☮ Banksy’. We believe this piece was originally gifted to Ben Eine, a fellow Bristol-based artist, whose work was given to President Barrack Obama by Prime Minister Tony Blair on the former’s state visit to Britain in 2010. The layers of irony in the association of such ideologically conflicted characters is truly surreal.

SL (cont.): Of course no Banksy auction would be complete without including the hilariously irreverent Morons and we have two on offer, an unsigned print from his ‘LA’ set (Lot 8) and a much rarer signed example in sepia (Lot 12).

That all said, my personal favourite work in the sale is Pulp Fiction (Lot 25); it’s an image that makes me smile every time I see it!

A: In your experience, is there a difference in how Europeans vs. Americans perceive Banksy? Why is Banksy so popular, and how does he fit into his generation of artists?

SL: I’m not convinced that there is a geographic divide between what admirers of Banksy’s work feel about his pieces – his draw is more messaged and the humour in many of his pieces transcends cultural barriers. He has unquestionably become a British icon, but this doesn’t prejudice the growing international appeal of his works. Many of Banksy’s satirical observations are self-evidently nuanced with geo-political overtures and inevitably the USA, as the most senior global ‘face of capitalism’, gets its fair share of his attention. There has of course been a sea-change in the demographic makeup of buyers for Banksy’s work as prices have risen. Many of the items in the auction would have cost less than $100 when they were first released and at 100-fold of this amount his collecting community has changed. It is however the case that all admirers of his works will continue to derive pleasure from both the visual impact of the pieces and the commentary that many of them express on both discrete and broader topics of social interest.

A: What should a collector look for when considering buying a Banksy?

RW:  My over-riding advice to any collector, whatever the art they are considering, is first and foremost to focus on what they like and want to see hanging on their walls. The informed and professional collector may have greater commercial bias when choosing their purchases but won’t gain any more pleasure from owning their works than enthusiastic amateurs who simply love the images they buy for their homes. When considering ‘value’, and as with anything you buy, rarity, provenance and condition are key.

All of Banksy’s directly produced and published works, whether ‘originals’ or limited edition prints, are recorded and the only authenticating authority is Pest Control Office. Irrespective of what a vendor or agent might state as regards other provenance, any work without the Pest Control COA is largely un-saleable. Aside from the now expensive recorded works there are occasionally much more affordable releases of Banksy memorabilia – we will only deal with those that are sanctioned either by the artist or his publishing gallery, Pictures on Walls, and these are catalogued as ‘after’ Banksy (Lots 5, 13, 22, & 34).

Whatever your budget, there is a Banksy for you!

A: How does the edition series work? Who decides the size, the number of reprints?

RW:  The size of an edition is decided by the artist at the time of printing the work. Early in Banksy’s career he was fairly regimented in producing editions of 600 unsigned examples with a further 150 signed in either pencil or ink by him. That said there are a few exceptions; signed impressions of Queen Vic are amongst his scarcest early prints as there were only 50 of them produced and we are very fortunate to have one of these rare works in the sale (Lot 17). As Banksy’s career took off he moved away from producing unsigned editions and only released signed works. These again vary in size from editions of 300 all the way down to just 25 for examples in each colour way for the Choose Your Weapon series, as in the wonderful dark orange version in Lot 38.

RW (cont.): A small portion of all artist's editions are reserved for the artist and designated as AP or artist's proof. In the case of Banksy these are extra special as they can vary hugely from the standard published editions. Banksy's AP's are printed in tiny editions and different colours from those available to the public. In the case of the NOLA (Lot 30) there are only 6 examples in this particular colour way, making it extraordinarily scarce.

Finally, it is important to note that once the edition number is set and the works have been printed and sold no more can be made. That is to say, the screens that the prints were produced from are destroyed and there is no possibility of reprinting. This strict adherence to set edition sizes ensures that the works maintain their rarity and of course their value.

A: Where can collectors view the works?

SL: Banksy NYC is previewing in Manhattan, at Forum Auction’s gallery located at 26 East 64th Street, from Friday 8th December through to auction day on 12th December. For those collectors that cannot view the sale in person, detailed condition reports are available on request.

Explore Forum Auctions: Banksy NYC on Artsy, and place max bids on more than 40 artworks. Live bidding opens Tuesday, December 12th, at 2:00pm ET.