This week, a 2005 painting by Banksy sold for $ 9.8 million, making the second place in Banksy’s sales records. The interesting story of this painting, the virtual sale and the dissonance between street art and art worth millions are the topics discussed in this post.
2005 was a turning point for Banksy. Until then, he was best known in Bristol, where he grew up, and in London, to where he moved in the early 2000s. This year was significant because it marked his breakthrough, becoming a world-renowned street artist on account of a number of moves, beginning with a series of pranks he performed in major museums in New York and London.
That was also the year in which he ventured as far as the West Bank, where he created a series of works on the separation wall, a few of which have become iconic images in his career. It was also the year he published his (only) book Wall and Piece – the only documentation of all his works up until then. Scattered among the photographs in the book are also texts written by Banksy, that illuminate his agenda.
In 2005 Banksy presented his first exhibition “Crude oils” at a Notting Hill Gallery in London.
There were two types of paintings in the exhibition: Banksy interpretations of famous works, among them – Show me the Monet, which of course refers to an iconic painting by Claude Monet, Van Gogh’s sunflowers and others received contemporary interpretations.
In the second set of paintings Banksy added elements to works he acquired at flea markets. In his book he wrote about this practice: : “If you want to survive as a graffiti writer when you are indoors, your only option is to carry on painting over things that don’t belong to you there either.”
It wasn’t easy to find a space for the exhibition, mainly because of Banksy’s condition, that it would include 164 live rats roaming the place. But the visitors came in droves to see the show. Watch a Channel 4 video taken inside the exhibition in 2005.
A twist on Impressionism
Monet’s original painting is well known even to non-art lovers.He painted numerous paintings of his beloved garden in Giverny, in the north of France. The Japanese bridge was a favourite subject that he painted over and over again in different seasons and times of the day. The original idyllic painting is an iconic symbol of Impressionism in the late 19th century but Banksy’s twist changed it completely. He turned the pool into a garbage dump, with supermarket carts and a traffic cone dumped in the water. With the now famous Banksy skill for punchy titles, he named the painting Show me the Monet, referring to the film Jerry Maguire, that coined the classic line SHOW ME THE MONEY!. Banksy’s capitalist-environmental statement is the complete opposite of the idyllic original and actually, today it’s even more relevant than the year it was created. In 2005, Banksy’s works were not sold for much if at all. According to The Art Newspaper, at the end of the exhibition, the owners of the space bought the painting Show me the Monet for £15,000 and they are the sellers that pocketed 9.8 million dollars. Not a bad deal at all.
Today, Banksy’s works are worth millions – especially those painted without the use of stencils. The highest record so far was set in October 2019, when the large-scale painting Devolved parliament showing monkeys as members of Parliament was sold for $12 million. As mentioned, Show me the Monet now made second place, at a price that scratches the ten million mark and exceeds the preliminary estimate by far.
9.8 million in 9 minutes
The auctioneer took his time on this item, using all the tricks in the psychology of auctions book. He was energetic, assertive, paused in the right places, pressed, coaxed and smiled – all to persuade potential buyers to bid a little higher. Sotheby’s representatives were scattered between London, Paris, New York and Hong Kong, competing with each other, wanting “their” client to win the prize, even though all money would go into the same pocket. Patti Wong, the head of the Asia desk, stood confidently and quietly, probably knowing her client would not stop at any cost. Every time a counter bid was made, she paused and then raised her hand for one more bid, until all the competitors were out. Finally, the hammer came down after 9 long minutes.
We don’t know who the buyer in Asia is but we can be sure the painting will join other Western cultural treasures that have migrated to Asia and who knows if we will ever see it again.
From the street to the exclusive auction houses
The transition from art in the public sphere to art that sells for millions carries, it seems, a built-in paradox. But Banksy solved the dissonance in a very clever way: for him, works painted on the street belong on the street and works painted on canvas are saleable. He built a simple but effective set-up to enforce the division – works taken off the street will never be approved by Banksy Pest Control’s certification body. If there is a certificate, it is definitely original. It so happened very recently that a man who removed a Banksy from the Lido in Brighton in the south of England many years ago, brought it for approval to the popular TV show Antiques road show. The host of the show was rather harsh on him after he described the circumstances that led to him having a painting of Banksy for nearly twenty years. He said the board on which it was painted was a little “loose” and he “tugged” it a little to break free. Of course he failed to get a certificate of authenticity from Banksy but still decided to try his luck on the successful TV show. Alas, he was forced to fold his tail between his legs when he realized that a Banksy without authorisation was not worth a penny.
Finally, it’s safe to say that Banksy is the only anonymous artist in the world to sell art for millions.
Click below for more information on the upcoming online lecture.
What to learn more about Banksy’s uncanny career? Banksy, one of the most fascinating and famous artists in the world, has been able to keep his identity a secret since he started working on the streets of Britain in the 1990s.
It is interesting to ask why Banksy, of all the street artists, has achieved such fame? Perhaps because he is a kind of Robin Hood of the art world. His messages always support the helpless. He is a sort of friendly troll and a witty cynic, who continuously moves around like a ninja without leaving a trace.