Banksy on the auction block — what does this mean for street art?

0 Posted by - January 28, 2008 - Blog

The Banksy mural on Portobello road

When the eBay auction for Banksy’s latest mural closed, the winning bid was a whopping £208,100 (approx. $400,000). The wall in question, located on Portobello Road in West London, belonged to Luti Fagbenle. He was quoted as having said that he couldn’t “really justify owning a piece of art worth as much as it is,” so he sold it. The price did not include the removal of the piece, or the replacement of a graffiti-free wall.

This event falls only weeks before the world’s first ever Urban Art auction at Bonhams Fine Art Auctioneers on February 5th. I’ve been mulling over the coming together of these two events, and can’t help but see 2008 as a pivotal and defining year for street art. Only I’m not sure if I should be excited or concerned.

The underlying beauty of street art is its organic and transient properties. Works live and die at the hand of other artists, or the authorities who fail to see its inherent worth. But when inherent worth becomes associated with monetary worth, the value of street art is up for debate. The roots of the art form are threatened. Mr. Fagbenle woke up one morning and won the lottery. But what of the artist that decorated his bricks, and the message that the work was to convey?

It’s poignant to look at the mural itself—a mixture of traditional and modern art forms. A 19th Century beret-clad artist delicately painting ‘Banksy’ in red graffiti scrawl from his palette. Banksy is well aware of his conflated status in the art world. His rogue installations in major galleries (such as the Tate National) speak to his longstanding wrestle with the art world. Perhaps he’s been waiting idly for someone to tear apart their building to make a few bucks off his work. Though it is said his spokespeople confirmed the authenticity of the Portobello mural, they failed to comment on what they thought of the auction. However, perhaps Banksy himself has the most poignant opinion of the change in the status of street art. Posted on his website in the FAQ is the following:

“Aren't street art auctions a bit lame?
I don't agree with auction houses selling street art – its undemocratic, it glorifies greed and I never see any of the money.”

Well, if the artist himself can’t stop the capitalist machine its unlikely we’ll have much luck. So sit back and see how the Bonhams auction unfolds—its history in the making.

(Photo by flickr user Catcusbones.)

Also of interest:
Beyond Banksy: artists are finding practical paths to change
Bethlehem banks on Banksy to boost tourism
Banksy replaces Paris Hilton albums with altered version
The New Yorker reveals the face of Banksy

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