Bansky at Auction

Vol 5, Issue 2

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Bansky at Auction

by Andrew Witkin

The editor of the PAD newsletter asked for my thoughts on the selling of Banksy's works at auction. I was honored to be asked, but felt nervous weighing in as the realm in which his work exists and circulates is fairly different from the one in which I work as the director of Barbara Krakow Gallery, Boston, and even further from the field in which I ambulate as an artist.

The controversy has been about works made in the public sphere that are then 'taken private' and sold. The works he openly makes for the market are clearly defined in terms of being commodities. Other works made, legally or illegally, for/in public and grey-zone spaces have been removed. The sale of these works has then been attempted. Legal rulings have occurred and probably will continue do so with varied results.

The border line between anonymity and renown is an intriguing idea. With the increase in quantity of easily tradable commodities coming under the name Banksy, one recognizes that Banksy not only works in public realms but that the fluidity between public and private is not as easily defined as the general press presents.

The issue of his work being sold at auction is one that mixes commerce, design, pop culture and the specific maneuvers of he, what seems to be his 'handlers' and also some general market 'workers'. This activity is relevant sociologically. It has existed in various forms throughout art history in different guises: Warhol utilized it and made it one of the central parts of his art. Koons capitalized on it, Hirst has too, and Banksy does it now. It's wild to put that list of artists together, as artistically, my interest in them is certainly far from uniform.

While I don't want to descend into the question of "is it art?" or "why'd he do it?" there is a strong relationship between social maneuvering, artistic vocabularies (of objects AND actions), commercial interests and psychologically-minded gestures. I am, in no way, saying that these artists control how the public thinks or feels, but I am saying that they are aware of the various sectors of "general public" and how attempting to direct/control awareness/perception/etc. within these differences greatly changes one place in people's esteem. Are those actions, outside the actual perceived "art making", the interesting aspect of what he is doing?

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