The holding page for BBay, ‘the approved used Banksy dealership’, shows an image of an unidentifiable man standing in front of a blue van at what appears to be an art car boot sale, selling Banksy artworks. But apart from the characteristic tongue in cheek dig at the art world we have come to expect from Banksy over the past decade, what’s the story behind this new venture?
A play on the long running online marketplace ‘eBay’, BBay is Banksy’s latest foray into controlling how his work is sold. While it has not yet launched, it promises to be ‘Your first choice destination to trade in second-hand work by a third-rate artist’ – says the humble artist from BBay’s homepage.
Banksy has a history of setting up subventures in order to maintain a partial handle on the market for his art— a necessity given the artist's anonymity.
As well as Pest Control, Banksy's authentication body opened in 2008, and the only point from which his works can be issued with a certificate of authenticity, Banksy created the pop-up shop Gross Domestic Product in 2019. Despite Banksy's assertion that "copyright is for losers", both endeavours were aimed at keeping the number of fraudulent prints and works to a minimum. We suspect BBay was set up with this same intention, so lets take a look at Banksy's earlier pop-up shop to see what we can learn...
There is a not a lot known about BBay, but our educated guess is that it is a reaction to years of standing by as canvases, prints and merchandise were sold in his name without seeing any of the profit.
One of the trickiest conflicts of Banksy's career is between the artist's vocal criticism of capitalism, and his ascent to becoming an artist whose work reguarly sells on the secondary market for figures. Though his artistic ethos began in the democratizing force of street art, the artist has publicly been disdainful when the public spread of his art has been taken into the hands of large corporations. For example, in 2022, Banksy incited shoplifters to loot the Regent Street Guess store, after the fashion brand used his Love Is In The Air imagery without permission.
Read more in Banksy and Capitalism: Critic or Champion?
Banksy launched Gross Domestic Product in 2019, where fans could buy Banksy artworks that had never appeared on the market before, at accessible prices. Knowing that this approach may have encouraged ‘flippers’ to invest in his work only to sell it on at inflated prices later, Banksy put in a system to try and avoid this kind of thing happening: Each customer was only allowed to buy one artwork or product, and before purchasing they were required to answer the question ‘Why does art matter?’ The responses were judged by comedian Adam Bloom and if he deemed them funny, enlightening, or original, the buyer’s name would be entered into a lottery to ‘win’ the chosen artwork.
“Wealthy collectors” were asked to refrain from registering as the stock was priced “far below market value”. According to the terms and conditions, Gross Domestic Product can refuse an order “if an item is offered for sale on the secondary market before receipt, or if GDP reasonably believes that it might be offered for sale before or after receipt”.
Furthermore, the project also put a two-year restriction on issuing certificates of authenticity, without which is very difficult to sell for market price.
It’s hard to say until it officially launches but BBay is thought to be an offshoot of Pest Control, Banksy’s official handling service which provides authentication of Banksy artworks to those interested in buying or selling his work on the secondary market. Currently the buying and selling of Banksy artwork takes place via several models, either via private sale, live and online only auctions, as well as from galleries that offer secondary market artists.
From what we know it seems to advertise that BBay will offer works by the artist from the secondary market, so potentially – yes. However, the question as to how and when remains speculation.
To answer this question, it's best to look at Pest Control:
Banksy set up Pest Control in January 2008 as a not-for-profit handling service and point of sale for new works, to help authenticate genuine Banksy works and expose any forgeries – to help make sure people don’t fall foul of fraudsters. If you have a Banksy that’s not been verified as authentic, Pest Control will be the ones to decide.
Pest Control has previously outlined that they are “the sole point of sale for new work by Banksy”. It is possible that if BBay ever goes live, it could be used by Banksy's to grapple greater control over the sale of old work, too. In other words, Banksy might use BBay to try and control the circulation of works on the secondary market.
But this would not be as easy a job as Pest Control's: a secondary market already exists, and Pest Control has allowed buyers and sellers alike to have mutual faith in the authenticity of works. There is no reason that BBay would change this, though it is impossible to say what selling rules Banksy will be able to impose on works bought through BBay, and some buyers might prefer the added security of buying and selling through a Banksy-approved platform.
It is always hard to predict what Banksy will do next, and time will only tell when it comes to this question. For now, Banksy's secondary market remains, and looks to be maturing as we enter 2023.
For the latest scoop on Banksy's market, read our Market Watch Banksy: Top 10 Most Investable Prints.
BBay is currently thought to be a branch of Pest Control, and as Banksy‘s only authentication body – remember that Pest Control is the only place to go to make sure any Banksy you own or are looking to buy or sell is the real deal, it is likely that BBay is a project very closely managed by the artist himself.
At this stage it’s impossible to know, but the artist is unlikely to be in this for the money alone – he has said on more that one occasion he would not want his commercial success to define him.
However there has long been a marked difference in Banksy's perspective of his street artwork versus his prints and editions in the secondary market. In 2013, he was quoted in Village Voice to have said: “Graffiti art has a hard enough life as it is – with council workers wanting to remove it and kids wanting to draw moustaches on it, before you add hedge fund managers wanting to chop it out and hang it over the fireplace… for the sake of keeping all street art where it belongs I’d encourage people not to buy anything by anybody unless it was created for sale in the first place.”
Pest Control will not authenticate any work removed from the urban environment. However, prints have long been fairly traded, with Pest Control issuing certificates of authenticity to those looking to buy and sell.
Banksy sales are booming on the secondary market. In 2019 the artist’s painting depicting the House of Commons filled with chimpanzees, titled Devolved Parliament, sold for an eye watering £9.9 million. This caused the artist to comment on his Instagram, ‘Record price for a Banksy painting set at auction tonight. Shame I didn’t still own it,’ though Bansky has now changed this original caption.
Explore more of the record-breaking prices for Banksy's originals here.
Meanwhile his more accessible prints and canvas editions continue to achieve strong prices at auction and in private sales so it’s only natural that the artist would want to get a taste of the action himself.
As well as a way to make his art more accessible to his fans and upturn the secondary art market the launch of Gross Domestic Product and BBay could be seen as just another dig at the contemporary art market. Banksy’s most famous mockery of the rarefied world of auction houses, which make millions from secondary sales, came in October 2018 when one of his Girl With A Balloon canvases sold for over £1 million before self-destructing in front of a rapt audience at Sotheby’s. The painting only shredded half way however, and the winning bidder still took it home, now with a new title, Love Is in the Bin.
So long as the page for BBay, accessed through the link from Banksy's 2019 Gross Domestic Product, stays dormant, unchanged since its creation, it remains as a cheeky prod at the thriving Banksy market, by the artist who still maintains his identity as a renegade against the commercial art world.