A Guide To Auction v Private Sale in the Banksy Market

Morons by Banksy - MyArtBrokerMorons © Banksy 2006
Joe Syer

Joe Syer, Co-Founder & Specialist[email protected]

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As the owner or potential buyer of a masterpiece, auction is a wonderful place to buy and sell truly unique original paintings. But do private sales trump auction when it comes to buying and selling prints and editions, and if so why?

Banksy’s most expensive works are wonderful examples of how the spectacle of auction works its magic. You only have to watch the sale of his painting Devolved Parliament to see how the saleroom, telephone and internet full of bidders made prices soar to obtain a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a specific work of art. Watch the auction of Banksy’s Devolved Parliament at Sotheby’s:

However, while auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have sourced and sold some exceptionally rare prints at record-breaking prices – such as Sotheby’s Girl With Balloon – Colour AP (Gold) for £1.1million, estimated at just £400,000-600,000 – the fees one pays to sell a Banksy print at auction at this level can be staggering. The return at auction is also rarely more than if you sold the same print on the private market. Sadly in more recent auctions sellers have found work has been burnt without selling, which can cause the work's value to decrease dramatically.

At the height of the market in March 2021, Sotheby’s totalled £4.09million across 46 prints, averaging £88,830 a print, while Christie’s totalled £4.46million across 44 prints, averaging £101,392 a print. Now, nearly two years after the first ‘Banksy Only’ sale, the tides have turned slightly.

Sell-through rates for Banksy Only Sales have dropped, meaning works are burnt and sellers are disappointed.

Forum’s Banksy Only auction in June 2021 offered 15 lots, of which 3 passed, and took in a total of £530,000. The average price of a print cost just £35,333. Bonhams’ Banksy Online Sale, which closed on 29 June, offered 31 prints but sold 20. The sale realised a total of £1.67million, averaging £83,538 a print. According to onlookers, some lots sold to a single bid while others failed to attract any bidders at all.

For a seller, the consequences of their print not selling at auction can be hugely damaging to the artwork’s reputation. A ‘burned’ artwork is judged as undesirable because it failed to find a buyer and, in the short-term, can decrease in value if it is offered at auction again soon after.

The very nature of editions means there is never just one chance to buy an artwork, making the fundamentals of auction much less exciting for all concerned.

With editions, if the price isn’t right for the buyer at that moment of sale, there is no particular incentive to keep bidding. A print's auction - whether live or online - lacks the once-in-a-lifetime energy reserved for a masterpiece. There is always an opportunity elsewhere for a print from the same series.

With major contemporary art collectors looking for the best return on their investments, it’s no wonder the trends are favouring online platforms offering the same global reach and world-class expertise as leading auction houses, for a fraction of the price.

If you are looking to sell your Banksy print exactly when you want, without cost, and without ever having to move the work until it’s sold (these are the demands of most of our clients), then most auction houses simply can’t accommodate the request, due to their pre-planned calendar and the overheads of running a traditional auction model.

At MyArtBroker, our objective is to return you the same as you would have at auction, at a time convenient to you, on your terms, and without risk. Our seller’s fees are always at 0%. You have the ability to sell whenever you want, at the very best time to release the value of your work. We own the largest dedicated international online network of Banksy buyers and sellers of contemporary and modern prints and editions in the world, and as a specialist online platform, that audience is undiluted and focuses primarily on Banksy.

“In 2020 MyArtBroker facilitated more sales between buyers and sellers of Banksy prints, than any auction house in the world.”

How does auction work?

Auctions work by taking a commission off the buyer and the seller: to sell, you’ll pay 15% of the hammer price plus marketing, catalouging, shipping and storage fees; and to buy, you’ll pay 25% of the hammer price plus VAT. If the artwork sells for well over the high estimate you could also be subject to a 1-2% performance commission. The traditional auction model takes food off both sides of the table.

Here’s what to do if you want to buy at auction

  1. You’ll need to wait for the auction date and either be there in person, on a pre-arranged call with a specialist, or you can be logged in online at the right time at the right lot (they recommend allowing 60-100 lots per hour). Or you can leave an absentee bid and hope for the best.
  2. Being at the right place, at the right time, is essential.
  3. Know your top bid that you’re willing to pay, (add 30%) and stick to it – even when the bidding gets tough.

Here’s what to do if you want to sell at auction

  1. Choose an auction house and approach them. First off is the task of finding the right auction for your print, this will be in consultation with one of the house’s specialists, who will normally want to see your work in person. They will advise on pricing strategy, and then suggest which sale would be best for it.
  2. Once everything is decided between you and the specialist, an administrator will contact you with your paperwork. It will then be up to you to manage and pay for your work to be shipped to the auction house’s storage facility ahead of the auction.
  3. The slated auction will likely be a few months down the line as auction seasons are static. Even if the auction is soon, consignment deadlines are usually 2 to 3 months prior.
  4. You may even be asked, particularly with a print, to wait until the next auction after, especially if the house has a print from the same series already consigned. This is so that two prints from the same series don’t depreciate each other.
  5. If your work sells at auction, you will receive payment a few weeks after the sale completes. Auction houses such as Christie’s also charge a 2% Performance Commission fee in the event that your print sells for above the high estimate you agreed with the specialist.
  6. If your work doesn’t sell, you’ll be expected to manage and pay for the safe return of your work, and pay the unsold fees to the auction house – often 1.5% of the average of the high and low estimate they catalogue it at. You will then have anything from two weeks to one month to collect the unsold work from their storage facility before it starts accruing storage fees.

How do auction fees work?

The seller’s commission at major auction houses, such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s, is 15%. On top of that, you’ll be asked to pay shipping, LDL (loss, damage and liability insurance), as well as a hefty marketing and cataloguing fee. These are negotiable fees when it comes to consignment. In the case of masterworks, an auction house might offer to waive the cost of selling for works of great value. They rarely offer the same waiver, however, for their Prints and Multiples auctions.

The buyer’s commission is 25% on anything you bid up to and including £450,000. You’ll then pay VAT on that commission, and in most cases, you’ll be required to produce identification details prior to bidding.

What does it cost to sell privately, via MyArtBroker?

Nothing – we now offer 0% seller’s fee, guaranteed, with no hidden fees. Having amassed an extraordinary community of buyers and sellers in the Banksy market over 20 years, it’s not difficult for us to find the right buyer for a work, and supported by digital innovation unlike our competitors, we offer 0% to our sellers, simply because we can.

How it works here: we make contact, we assign you a dedicated broker, you agree on a price, we offer your work immediately, and start looking for a buyer. Once a buyer is found and the funds are cleared, we help ship the work direct, no storage facility needed. That’s it. We do not hold you to a date to offer your work, nor do we charge for marketing it to our 30,000-strong collector network.

How does MyArtBroker offer this service at 0% sellers commission and auction houses can’t?

Having operated in the Banksy editions market since its heyday in 2010, we’ve been listening to our buyers and sellers and adapted the platform and network in a way that’s important to make it work for all. Our optimised service means we do not have many of the same overheads attached to running a traditional auction house, allowing us to invest heavily in digital innovation and marketing your work to our network.

When it comes to selling your artwork, to get the best price, it all comes down to accessing a niche market with a specific network of collectors. If you have a print to sell, you are far better off going to a specialist in the print market than you are going to an auction house, whose collectors are interested in much broader categories of artworks. Our network of buyers is unique to prints and multiples.

For buyers, we offer you the time to carefully consider each purchase without the pressures of a live auction, and we can bring a greater selection of artworks to market in a simple, secure way. Our brokers are specialists in their fields and we act as a conduit between you and sellers. We also pride ourselves on balanced market advice to first-time buyers and sellers.

Should you sell your print online?

If you’re planning to sell your prints yourself online, we recommend you speak to experts first and do not try to enter this field alone. Art will always be a tangible and very personal investment – online platforms alone, no matter how smart, will not be enough to cater to the new collecting market or the previous generation of collectors with substantial inventory.

When you buy or sell with MyArtBroker, your experienced personal broker can guide you through the whole process, find the right artwork or buyer, and even handle the process of authentication, price negotiation, and delivery.

How to sell art safely online?

Use a secure platform, read the testimonials and speak to experts. Although there is growing trust in the online art trade, platforms such as eBay still stumble when it comes to the issue of artist authenticity. The Banksy market is riddled with fakes, even with his Pest Control Certificate of Authenticity. Buying through a fine art professional offers absolute assurance and our brokers can help guide you in the right direction.

We offer the opportunity to post listings for wanted artworks within a global community of buyers and sellers – ideal for collectors searching for particular works that are more difficult to come by.

With 75% of new online buyers stating that they were driven by value potential more than any other motivator in 2020, it’s easy to see why both buyers and sellers are moving away from the traditional auction house, and towards online private sales.