Is that a real Banksy? Buying and selling art can be a tricky business to navigate with the occasional forger and fraudster making it tough for those less familiar with the world of contemporary art, and these people can be anyone from amateur art critics to experienced dealers.
MyArtBroker are experts in this area, and always on hand to answer any questions you might have. However, with Banksy and his authentication body, Pest Control, the rules are pretty simple. Anyone that makes out it’s more complicated should be treated with caution.
Who are Pest Control?
Pest Control is the only official body that can authenticate any Banksy print. It was set up in 2008 and is run by Banksy himself 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, or are looking to buy one that doesn’t yet have a cert, then Pest Control will answer any questions you have to determine whether he was responsible for the artwork, and issue a Pest Control Banksy certificate if this is the case.
Pest Control only certifies pieces that were produced for commercial sale, mostly his editions of silkscreen prints. Street Art pieces made on walls, doors, etc., won’t get a certificate (with a few occasional exceptions). They were never meant to be sold so Banksy won’t condone their sale on the primary or secondary market.
What should a Pest Control Certificate, or CoA, look like?
Pest Control certificates of authenticity have have changed recently, below are examples of those pre 2020, and what they look like when issued in 2020. All certificates are signed and come with half a Di-faced Tenner stapled to them. Rather cleverly, Pest Control keeps the other half of the tenner as a match, in order to further ensure any forgery can’t be made.
The new ones also include a rat running in the ‘wheel’ of a coffee cup ring, on the bottom left, and they’ll have a serial number at the top of the paper.
Who are POW, and what is a POW Certificate?
Pictures on Walls (POW) began life in 2003, partly by Banksy, as a collection of artists, graffiti writers, and illustrators who wanted to kick back against, what it saw as the ‘centuries-old grip of the established art world’ that was making art both inaccessible and elitist.
It allowed artists to sell direct and not have to pay commission to a dealer. It helped many now-famous street artists make a living by producing high-quality original prints. In so doing, it perfected many specialist print techniques and pioneered the use of eco-friendly, more expensive, non-solvent inks (traditional printing can damage the environment with its solvent-based by-products). It used to issue certificates for Banksy prints too, with a very smart embossed logo.
Pictures on Walls soon became a victim of its own success, and as more and more of its artists – like Banksy himself – became successful, works filtered through to the mainstream and became tradable commodities worth up to tens of thousands of pounds.
It was at this point, in 2017 the POW decided to call it a day – it seems there’s a fine line between the anti-elitist ideal of ‘art-for-all’ and ‘mainstream art’ – but you can see some of POW’s best bits, here. Pest Control is now the only official body that can authenticate any Banksy print.
Why would anyone want to fake a Banksy?
The elusive artist is in such high demand that original works can now change hands for millions of pounds – he’s come a long way since those first satirical stencils started popping up around Bristol in the early 90s, and so how can you be sure that what you’re getting isn’t just an overpriced print or, even worse, a bogus Banksy?
Although Banksy has never revealed his true identity, he is undoubtedly the most famous graffiti artist in the world, and the fact that original pieces can go for seven-figure sums confirms he is also one of, if not the, most sought after.
While this elusiveness is definitely part of the attraction – who isn’t intrigued by an artist who works under the cloak of darkness to produce his pieces in all manner of public places – the medium he works in, alongside his satirical take on the modern world and what he perceives to be its problems, adds to the intrigue.
His witty and subversive works began to pop up across Bristol throughout the 90s, targeting political hypocrisy and social injustice, before moving into cities across the UK, including Liverpool and London.
His work even travelled as far as the Middle East, to the West Bank in Gaza where he graffitied the West Bank wall to protest against Israeli militarism and oppression, a move which sparked the debate whether a wall judged to be ‘illegal’ by the International Court of Justice could, in fact, be vandalised. If the job of the artist is to instigate a thought-provoking conversation, Banksy easily fulfills this remit.
By the mid-2000s, Banksy was picking up a celebrity following and his works were starting to sell for some astronomical sums. Even local councils were getting in on the act, seeing his work as a potential money-spinner, rather than an eyesore to be whitewashed.
And then there’s the longevity of his output.
Banksy started out in 1992 as a graffiti artist in his native Bristol, his distinctive style influenced by Blek le Rat, a politicised French graffiti artist who preferred stencils to free-hand – Banksy has openly admitted that freestyle spraying isn’t his strongest skill, saying: “I was quite crap with a spray can, so I started cutting out stencils instead.” And he’s still going strong.
When an artist in any discipline gains a reputation as big as Banksy, there’ll always be people looking to make money on the back of their success, even more so when it’s difficult to work out whether or not the work is an original. And so we’ve reached the stage where bogus Banksy’s have become big business.
What are the most expensive Banksy’s?
Then there are several pieces that have sold for around the $500,000 mark and a few very special pieces have achieved well into the millions, including most notably the satirical painting of the House of Commons invaded by chimpanzees which sold in the Sotheby’s Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale for £9.9 million on 3 October 2019.
Meanwhile more recently Banksy donated three oil paintings spotlighting the European migrant crisis to raising money for a hospital in Bethlehem. Mediterranean Sea View as it was called, from 2017, as a tryptic sold for £2.23 million at the Sotheby’s evening sale From Rembrandt to Richter in 2020 in the middle of the Covid19 pandemic.
Demonstrating how the Banksy market seemed the only thing completely unaffected by the global pandemic Monkey Poison from 2004, sold via auction for £1.6 million, featuring a stencilled chimpanzee upon a reproduced Old Master work. You can find a full list of top prices paid for works by Banksy here.
Is Banksy fraud a big deal?
Wherever there’s money to be made, you can be sure there are fraudsters in the frame to make a quick buck, and dealing in Banksy’s is no different – it’s estimated that there are millions of pounds worth of fraudulent works in circulation.
In 2010, two con men were found guilty of making £50,000 in a scam that involved selling copies of genuine numbered prints on eBay, which they then passed off as being from a run of official limited-edition numbered prints, made early on in the artist’s career.
In 2008, Pest Control found that 226 works of art, including 89 street pieces and 137 screen prints had been falsely attributed to him. Pest Control subsequently issued a statement urging people not to buy Street Art unless it was created for sale through its own handling service.
How to get Pest Control authentication as a seller
If you do not have a Pest Control Certificate for your print you will need to apply for one. You can do this by filling out the form here. Pest Control answer enquiries from owners of Banksy works, and will prove or disprove whether Banksy was responsible for the work submitted, and only then will they issue paperwork. The process it not in place to generate profit and is put in place to ensure the owners of work by Banksy are never victims of fraud.
Why doesn’t my print have Pest Control?
If the print was produced before Pest Control was established in 2008, then the work may have been authenticated by POW, in which case it should feature a circular POW stamp containing an edition number, or come with a fake £10 banknote featuring the face of Princess Diana, in place of the Queen’s.
Numbered edition prints usually come in signed and unsigned runs of between 600 and 750 prints, around 150 of which will have been hand-signed by the artist. Although the demand for Banksy’s mean both are highly sought after, the more limited availability of the hand-signed prints makes them even more collectible.
If you’re in the market for street art, you’ll also find this won’t come with Banksy Pest Control authentication, as explained in a statement from the handling service: “Pest Control does not authenticate street pieces because Banksy prefers street work to remain in situ and building owners tend to become irate when their doors go missing because of a stencil.”
It added: “Banksy has a casual attitude to copyright and encourages the reproduction of his work for your own personal amusement, so it’s with regret that he finds himself having to deem pieces either ‘real’ or ‘fake’.
“He would encourage anyone wanting to purchase one of his images to do so with extreme caution, but does point out that many copies are superior in quality to the originals.”
It could also be the case that you’ve come across a Banksy that is yet to be authenticated.
How long does it take?
Once you’ve submitted your piece to Pest Control, be prepared to wait a while for the result, as the verification process isn’t as straightforward as you might imagine, not least because, as the Pest Control website says: “Many Banksy pieces are created in an advanced state of intoxication which can make the task of authenticating his works lengthy and challenging.”
Whether buying or selling, the peace of mind will be well worth the wait, and Pest Control only deals with authentic works of art and has no involvement with any kind of illegal activity. Many dealers, platfroms and auction houses refuse to proceed with a sale without a CoA from Pest Control. The certificate will also help insure the work for its correct value.
You will only need to pay for the certificate if you’re successful (£50.00 admin fee currently + VAT, which is pretty fair). All emails to and from Pest Control are supposed to be confidential. If you’re unsuccessful, they send a terse email to that effect. They don’t do appeals or seem to change their mind on decisions, unless you have very great proof to back up your case.
There’s nothing particularly sly or complicated about the Pest Control authentication process. Many users say they find the service really helpful and professional. Basically, you need a paper trail and as much information as you can.
If you have multiple Banksy’s that require Pest Control art authentication, you’ll need to fill out a separate form for each.
How much will my Banksy be worth once authenticated?
It’s impossible to say how much you’ll get for your Banksy – prices vary significantly at all ends of the market – but having a certificate of authenticity increases buyer confidence and means your piece will fetch more when it’s time to sell.
To get an idea of how much your Banksy is worth, check out what similar pieces have recently sold for, or get in touch with the team here at MyArtBroker and we’ll advise you on the market and the current selling landscape.
If you need help, MyArtBroker can always advise. For more information on selling a Banksy, check out our comprehensive seller’s guide to Banksy.
How to get Pest Control authentication as a buyer
Pest Control authentication is the best way to circumvent the conmen and make sure any Banksy you’re buying is genuine.
You will need to fill in the forms as directed on the Pest Control website. Use as high-resolution images as possible, alongside the dimensions of the piece, the name of the piece, the type of artwork, and any information you have on the current owner, and the price it’s selling for.
Pest Control charges a fee to issue a verification certificate. If the artwork is verified as genuine, Pest Control will send an email with an invoice attached. Once this invoice is paid, your certificate of authentication from Pest Control on behalf of Banksy will be delivered to you within two weeks of the payment clearing.
How can I verify a Pest Control CoA certificate someone shows me?
The best analogy is car tax. The work will be registered to the owner and their address (just like a car). The signed certificate could be faked, so you’ll need to check the registration back with Pest Control to verify that the person claiming to own the work, does indeed have rightful ownership.
Any potential buyer can check with Pest Control to find the registered owner, you’ll need to have the print edition number, and all details of the work. Otherwise you’re wasting yours and their time.
There should only be one version of that iteration of the print run. (Technically, it’s just possible that a registered owner could then fake their print, but it’s unlikely and, at least you’ve got their correct address).
You, or a trusted intermediary, should see the print in real life before committing to buy, and if you know the unique edition number, you can monitor the web to see if anyone else claims to be selling the same (turns out, there’s a useful purpose to those edition numbers). If you buy a piece, you should then change the ownership name by emailing Pest Control your details.
How can I verify a Pest Control Banksy certificate is real?
Authenticating Banksy’s work can be a drawn-out and arduous process – not only does the sheer volume of requests processed by Pest Control mean it can take months to get an answer, the breadth of Banksy’s work can sometimes make it almost impossible to authenticate, particularly if it was never meant for the commercial market, as is the case with many of his graffiti works.
As a rule, Pest Control won’t authenticate Banksy street works, not least because doing so would implicate the artist in criminal activity – in the UK, graffiti artists can face a fine or even imprisonment, under the Criminal Damage Act 1971.
Then there’s the fact the artist wants his stencil paintings to remain in their original context. It’s argued that street art is no longer street art once its hung up in a museum, but there’s sometimes little choice if a building needs renovating or is even being knocked down – as would have been the case with Banksy’s famous gun-toting rat in Liverpool, a piece that would have been lost forever when the building it was painted on was being converted into luxury flats.
Banksy has even refused to authenticate some of his own works, to both put people off buying his street art and stop dealers from making a profit from it. Back in 2008, at the time some of his works were fetching millions of pounds, the urban artists famously scuppered the sale of five pieces of street art at a Lyle and Turnbull auction, by issuing a statement urging buyers to boycott the sale.
He 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.
Adding: “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.”
For more information on the Pest Control process and certificate authentication, get in touch with the team at MyArtBroker, who will talk you through the process via email at [email protected], and we’ll reply to your query or give you a call back if you wish.
How long does it take to hear back from Pest Control?
It’s a bit like the Passport Office if you fill in all the elements correctly and your application is straightforward – you can sometimes get a speedy reply, as soon as two days. Or, if you don’t fill the form in correctly, or don’t have an honest query, it might take months.
Once you’ve emailed, they should email you back with a unique “authentication request number”, keep this to hand for any correspondence. Pest Control may have a long backlog of requests so will probably let you know if that’s the case. If the seller is already on their system that may speed things up too.
The answers to some of the most hotly discussed topics on Pest Control.
Are there any other ways to verify the authenticity of a Banksy?
The short answer to this is ‘no’. Although rival services have been set up, and many dealers out there will vouch for the authenticity of a piece, securing a Pest Control art authentication certificate remains the only way to 100% ensure you’re getting your hands on an original.
An alternative authentication service, Vermin, was set up around the time of the ill-fated Lyle and Turnbull auction in 2008, and verified works including Refuse Rat, which was expected to sell for around £20,000, and Fungle Junk, which had an estimated value of £150,000.
Although there was little doubt that the works were genuine, only the five of the 24 Banksy’s up for auction actually sold. Ben Hanly, a specialist at Lyle and Turnbull, assured buyers the works weren’t fakes, telling the London Evening Standard: “It would be absolute madness for us to sell anything we don’t believe is genuine.”
But the damage had already been done by the artist himself, and a statement on the Pest Control website confirmed it as the only place to get verification’s of his work: “All works authenticated by Pest Control have been done so in conjunction with the artist. Banksy does not provide this service through any other third parties and we would caution collectors against relying on such bodies.”
It’s also worth noting that auctioneers including Sotheby’s and Dreweatts are among several who will only offer Banksy’s that come with a Pest Control certificate.
Another way might be to seek the advice of the committed buyer community to verify your purchase. At the heart of it, most committed buyers are known to each other and are a loyal group of like-minded aficionados. If you buy outside the group, it might be problematic. Use your common sense, if it’s too good to be true; it probably is. Go down the authentication route and you should get results.
Which prints have Pest Control?
Any Banksy prints created from 2002 onwards should have a Pest Control certificate of authenticity, and we’d advise against buying anything that doesn’t. But it’s worth noting that certificates of authentication aren’t issued with the prints upon first sale, and so those buyers need to apply for them once the prints are released.
If the print doesn’t have a certificate, you should contact Pest Control here, with details its current owner, when and where it was purchased, the purchase price, and up to 10 high resolution images. If your print or artwork doesn’t come with a Pest Control certificate, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not genuine, it means you need to provide proof.
Is Banksy himself a fraud?
Banksy’s distinctive stencilling style means his work is instantly recognisable the world over – the kind of recognition any artist would crave – but there are those that are quick to criticise his art, with many claiming it’s a direct copy of Blek le Rat, the French street artist. It’s a claim that isn’t without foundation – the stencilled rats that have appeared around London and become synonymous with Banksy, aren’t a million miles from what Blek le Rat was doing in Paris in the early 80s.
Even though many of Banksy’s works are similar in style to that of Blek le Rat, such is the breadth of his work, which includes a number of sculptures and prints alongside his street art, and so powerful is his social commentary, to label him a fraud on the back of these similarities would be disingenuous, to say the least.
If you’ve any questions on buying and selling an original Banksy, get in touch with the team at MyArtBroker by emailing us at [email protected] We can also be contacted on Instagram.