Banksy: market still buoyant

[13 Aug 2013]


Two years ago, the release of the much publicised documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop provided a substantial boost to the market status of Banksy, the first ever Street artist to have crossed the seven-digit threshold at auction (in USD). Having been heavily impacted by the crisis in late 2008 and 2009, we take a brief look at the health of the BANKSY market today, within a context that is generally more favourable for Contemporary art.

The first signs of rapid secondary market inflation for works by Banksy appeared in 2006. Within just a few months he evolved from an “affordable” artist (at less than $10,000) to a market heavyweight fetching prices close to $100,000: on 25 October 2006 at Bonhams London, his Tank, embracing Couple, estimated £5,000, fetched no less than £52,000 (over $97,000).

His prices continued rising in 2007 and peaked in 2008 with two auction records above the million-dollar threshold. The first, on 14 February, when Keep It Spotless fetched $1.7 million at Sotheby’s New York ($1.87 million including fees) and the second, two weeks later, when his Simple Intelligence Testing sold for $1,093,400 (£550,000 at Sotheby’s London). Boosted by the demand frenzy that overtook the Contemporary art market in 2008, Banksy signed 21 auction results above the $100,000 line in the first half of that year. In the first six months of 2013, the hammer only fell eight times above this price level. His market has therefore calmed down substantially since 2008; but what about his prices?

When Contemporary art prices collapsed in 2008/2009, some of Banksy’s works saw their auction prices divided by two or even three. For example, on 12 October 2007 his sculpture David (Michelangelo’s David revisited) sold for the equivalent of $347,000 (£170,000) and then for $126,000 (£80,000) on 14 October 2011 at Sotheby’s.

Despite substantial losses for some investors who sold at the bottom of the market, Banksy has attracted enough collectors to return to a good price level today. Although not generating million-dollar results, his price index is clearly bullish. Several results reflect this trend, starting with his best so far in 2013: Think Tank fetched £330,000 ($516,120) on 13 February 2013 at Sotheby’s London whereas on 16 April 2008 the same subject was worth £200,000 less (£130,000 or approximately $256,000) at Bonhams London. Another example is the €90,000 (about $120,000) that the Paris auctioneer Artcurial fetched for Flying Copper in January 2013, a subject that was worth less than half that price on 26 June 2010 at Sotheby’s London (£31,000 or roughly $47,000).

As the art market recovers from the purge of its speculative excesses and confidence gradually returns, demand is steadily picking up again. With Banksy clearly limiting the number of his works on the secondary market, some people are stealing them directly off the streets! The situation is indeed more than a little ironical… the street vandals are no longer artists! With Street Art now fully accepted on the art market, Banksy’s famous stencils have been transformed from unwelcome graffiti into part of the collective urban heritage. Those now dubbed “vandals” are those who try to clean the walls, or in some cases, to strip the stencils off the walls like art thieves in a gallery… a practice that appears to be gaining momentum. Many art lovers are already lamenting the disappearance this summer of the stencil No Ball Games painted on the wall of a London shop. This was not a first for Banksy and he is not the only artist targeted. Street artists are indeed increasingly finding that their urban interventions have a mercantile destiny beyond their control.
All of which suggests that the provenance of works of Street Art may be becoming a rather tricky question. Banksy himself has set up an authentication service called Pest Control, the only structure authorized by the artist to sell his works.