How to Navigate the Market for Banksy Prints
The market for Banksy’s prints is in many ways its own collecting ecosystem. The growth in their value has been so profound that MyArtBroker recently published a piece comparing prints by the anonymous street artist to other traditional high-return assets like gold, FTSE 100 shares, oil, Bitcoin, and real estate. According to the article, the average price of a Banksy print overtook gold for the first time in 2020. Additionally, the average annual selling point of Bansky’s works on paper increased by 178% between 2019 and 2020, higher than any other asset in the study.
“In the last six months alone, the return from the sale of Banksy prints has shattered the return performance of traditional investments, with the S&P 500 offering a return of +67.81% and Banksy artworks a staggering +239.29%,” said John Russo, CEO at Maddox Advisory.
Banksy prints have been growing steadily in value since 2011 when their average price on the secondary market was still under £10,000 ($13,800). In the past two years, that value has grown exponentially, with prices skyrocketing to an average of £60,000 ($83,120) in 2020, despite a pandemic-induced drop in the global auction market.
While this short-term growth demonstrates strong consumer demand, it does not always inspire confidence in collectors with longer-term plans. Given the dramatic change Banksy’s print market has undergone in the past two years alone, collectors both seasoned and novice would do well to know their way around these complicated trends. A proper understanding of where the market is heading and how to assess a given print by Banksy can help ensure lasting value for collectors.
Be aware of market inflation
Typically, prints are the most accessible sector of an artist’s market with multiple editions allowing for lower price points. This used to be the case with Banksy. However, many collectors who bought the artist’s prints in the early 2000s have recently been cashing in on the phenomenal market growth, further driving the increases that had led them to sell in the first place.
“A client of ours purchased a signed print in 2003 for £100 ($138), and we sold the work in our September 2020 auction for a hammer price of £85,000 ($117,500), a result that was 850 times what they paid for it over the course of 17 years,” remarked James Baskerville, a specialist and associate director at Christie’s.
According to Russo, this is leading to a domino effect that is raising prices across the board. “Demand has inflated the price of his prints to such an extent that many new art collectors are priced out of his market,” he explained. “Other contemporary street artists are reaping the benefits and finding that new collectors are turning from the prospect of purchasing a Banksy print to artists like Invader, Stik, or RETNA.”
This enormous secondary market demand is largely due to the fact that Banksy maintains extremely tight control over his work. Banksy’s prints can only be purchased on the primary market through the artist’s de facto representation, Pest Control. There has not been a new print produced by Banksy since 2017’s Sale Ends (V.2).
Collectors looking to acquire a Banksy print will be stepping into a sphere that has one of the smallest primary-market supplies and highest secondary-market demand among contemporary artists. However, those wanting to buy at a strategic time can look forward to a possible market correction in the future. “In the medium to long term, I think there will be a fair amount of price correction and a soft easing of demand,” argued Russo.
Ben Cotton, founder and director at Hang-Up Gallery in London, thinks that collectors can expect this much sooner. “We have seen pricing for some of the unsigned works stabilize and on occasion correct over the last couple of months,” he said. “I predict that we will see a period of slower activity over the summer months (the perfect buying time for those in the know) followed by the positive increases the market is used to as we head into the autumn and into the art season.”
Pay attention to quality
Because Banksy has sold his prints independently online for over a decade, the quality of many of his secondary-market prints can vary enormously. “The earliest prints were originally marketed at very low prices, £30 ($40) unsigned and £120 ($165) signed,” explained Richard Hawkes, a specialist in print maintenance at Artworks Conservation Ltd. “This meant that, because many buyers did not look after them or have them framed with acid-free mounts, good-condition copies are harder to find.”
According to Hawkes, a particular problem affecting the quality of a number of Banksy’s prints is that they are often sold or dispatched rolled up in a tube. This has led to prints being stuck down to non-archival, pressure-sensitive boards or attached with heat-set tissue. “We have seen Banksy prints heat-set to MDF and worse,” he said.
The value of a Banksy print can also vary based on when and how the print was produced and whether it is signed. His collectors place a premium on unique features that help a print stand out from others in its series. “Banksy editions can be divided into signed prints, unsigned prints, and artist’s proofs, their subjects often iterating the artist’s most iconic images and motifs,” said Lucia Tro Santafe, director of Bonhams’s prints department. “When a similar subject exists in multiple editions, the signed editions are more valuable than unsigned, while artist’s proofs command an added premium when they feature hand-painted elements or rare color variations.”
In addition to paying attention to a print’s physical condition, collectors should also be wary of forgeries made possible by the initial laissez-faire approach Banksy took to his work. Pest Control provides a full database of the artist’s work for collectors to check a prospective purchase against, and will also authorize prints as legitimate for a small fee. “There are hundreds of stencils of Banksy images online, and unscrupulous people use them to make fakes—especially road signs for some reason—and then give them realistic sounding backstories in order to sell them for a lot of money,” reads the website. “They are not real.”
A Pest Control certificate (or a Pictures on Walls stamp for an earlier work) is required in order for a print to be sold on the secondary market. “The works we offer have all been authenticated by Banksy’s authentication body, Pest Control, and have an accompanying Certificate of Authenticity,” said Yessica Marks, acting head of prints at Sotheby’s London.
Consider the long-term value of the work
In addition to offering authentication, Pest Control can also delay new pieces from circulating on the secondary market by not certifying the objects it sells into the primary market. “As of the end of this year the ‘Gross Domestic Product’ editions will be eligible for their certificates of authenticity from Pest Control, and it will be exciting for these works to begin appearing at auction,” explained James Baskerville of Christie’s. Consequently, collectors should be aware that new prints bought directly from Banksy might not be immediately resellable at auction.
Those who collect Banksy prints with the intention of keeping them out of circulation for the long term will be less interested in recent spikes in value. However, they will be concerned with whether the print at least retains its original price. The current consensus seems to be that Banksy prints will hold their value over time.
Marks looks to recent auction results as a guide to trends in the market. “The results we achieved at Sotheby’s in March are indeed an indicator of the strength and resilience of his market,” she said. “Since then, collectors have perhaps welcomed a period to digest these strong prices, but I am confident we will keep seeing new benchmarks being set.”
In addition, the increasing institutionalization of Banksy’s work creates a concrete foundation for his market to continue growing. “It’s important to remember that Banksy was only very recently recognized and accepted by leading museums and institutions as a notable artist,” said Russo. “Despite this not having been an intention of the artist himself, by gaining the support of widely respected institutions, he’s excelled from a popular street artist to an integral part of history—and, dare I say it, the Basquiat of our generation—whose market is showing no sign of slowing.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed a comment made by John Russo of Maddox Gallery. The text has been corrected.