Banksy Market Accelerates Following Shredding Stunt
Banksy, Slave Labor, 2012. Photo by Deptford Jon, via Flickr.
The secondary market for Banksy’s work is a strange place. Of his top 10 lots at auction, four were sold in the last two months. One, Happy Chopper (2006), used to belong to the late comedian Robin Williams. Another, Slave Labour (Bunting Boy) (2012), was recently purchased by another street artist, Ron English, who plans to paint over it. Yet another was painted on a friend’s truck at the Glastonbury music festival in 1998, and the three panels it spanned were subsequently cut out.
Banksy’s second-highest auction result ever started to self-destruct shortly after the hammer fell at Sotheby’s in London last month. What the artist later revealed as a malfunction left it half-shredded and re-christened as a new work, dubbed Love is in the Bin (2018). Only Banksy’s dig at Damien Hirst, Keep it Spotless (2007), achieved a higher price when it sold for $1.8 million—more than five times its high estimate—at Sotheby’s “(Red)” auction in 2008.
Banksy, Girl with Balloon, AP Gold, 2004. Courtesy of Phillips.
Now, fresh on the heels of the viral shredding incident, the auction house Phillips has opened a selling exhibition of 27 works by Banksy in its Hong Kong galleries. Dubbed “Banksy: Who’s Laughing Now?,” the exhibition opened Saturday and runs through December 7th. It coincides with Phillips’s contemporary art sales in Hong Kong on November 25th and 26th, the latter of which includes two Banksy portraits of Abraham Lincoln, both estimated at $HK1–2 million ($128,000–256,000). Though the works for the exhibition and sale have been lined up for months, the fortuitous timing of the shredding stunt isn’t lost on the Phillips team.
“It put him on the radars of a lot of non-art people who don’t really know his name, and I think that helps a lot for his market,” said Miety Heiden, the deputy chairman and head of private sales at Phillips. “I don’t necessarily think it will have an effect at the top end, but definitely on the editions market.”
The market for Banksy editions and prints is vast: Since the October 5th shredding incident, 37 of his prints and works on paper have sold at auction, according to the Artnet price database. And the lower price points of editions attract a broader base of collectors who might have been reminded of, or become newly aware of, Banksy thanks to the shredding stunt.
Banksy, Laugh Now, 2002. Courtesy of Phillips.
Phillips’s Banksy exhibition includes a mix of editions and unique works. On the lower end are unsigned prints, priced in the range of $HK90,000–500,000 ($11,500–63,800), while signed prints in the show are for sale in the region of $HK270,000–2.5 million ($34,500–319,000), and unique works start around $HK3.2 million ($408,600). The exhibition’s title is a riff on one of its marquee, one-of-a-kind pieces: the 6-meter-long painting Laugh Now (2002). It features the repeating stenciled image of a monkey wearing a sandwich board, some of which reads: “Laugh now, but one day I’ll be in charge.” When it came up for sale at Bonhams in 2008, it sold for £228,000 ($450,236). For Heiden, the work “is very timely in this world.”
The exhibition also marks the return to market of Bacchus at the Seaside (2009), a found painting in a classical style that Banksy updated by cutting out the two figures’ faces and adding a strategically placed painting of a traffic cone. The piece sold at Sotheby’s in London in March, where it nearly doubled its high estimate to sell for £669,000 ($929,166), currently making it Banksy’s fifth-highest auction result.
The sale also includes two versions of the iconic Girl with Balloon image that passed through the shredder last month at Sotheby’s. Both from 2004, one features a red heart-shaped balloon, while the other has a golden balloon. The versions for sale at Phillips don’t have custom frames like the one that self-destructed at Sotheby’s, and Heiden isn’t especially worried about the secretive street artist pulling a similar stunt in Hong Kong.
Banksy, Bacchus at the Seaside, 2009. Courtesy of Phillips.
Banksy, Love Rat on pallet, 2004. Courtesy of Phillips.
“If something of that caliber were to happen again, then it’s not funny anymore,” she said.
For Steve Lazarides, Banksy’s former dealer, the shredding stunt was “one of the finest bits of performance art in history.” He says it’s also driven interest in “The Art of Banksy,” a non-selling traveling exhibition he curated, which features more than 80 works; it was most recently on view in Toronto. The show will open in Miami on December 1st, just in time for Art Basel in Miami Beach.
“That introduced him to a whole new bunch of people that might not have heard of him before, and certainly to the upper echelons of the art world where Banksy wasn’t necessarily that well respected,” Lazarides said.
How buyers in the market’s upper echelons will respond remains to be seen. During last week’s major sales in New York, Sotheby’s had mixed results with the four Banksy works it brought to auction. Three sold for sums slightly or well above their estimates, including the aforementioned Glastonbury truck painting, which fetched $735,000 (including auction house fees) against a pre-sale estimate of $400,000–600,000 (which does not take fees into account). But a fourth, Barcode Leopard (2002), with a pre-sale estimate of $300,000–400,000, failed to find a buyer.
Installation view of Banksy, Flag Wall, in “The Art of Banksy.” Courtesy of “The Art of Banksy.”
Sotheby’s had better luck in the immediate aftermath of the shredding incident. At the following day’s afternoon sale in London, all three Banksy works that went under the hammer easily surpassed their estimates, including the relatively small 2005 painting Untitled (Rat and Sword), which soared past its high estimate of £70,000 to sell for £286,000 ($375,180).
Whether Banksy’s latest viral moment will have a lasting effect on his market, or merely provide a short-lived spike, remains to be seen. In addition to the Phillips exhibition and sales, a dedicated auction of Banksy editions at Forum Auctions in London on November 28th may offer a barometer of Heiden’s prediction about interest in works at more affordable price points.
“He’s what the bigger public wants at the moment,” she added. “Is there renewed interest? Yes. I don’t know how that financially will impact his market, but when he did this, I even had my mother on the phone who saw it in a newspaper. She never reacts to anything, but she reacted to this.”