Gross Domestic Product – The Homewares Brand from Banksy™  A carefully crafted publicity stunt or a genuine bid by Banksy to make his work more accessible?

Last month Banksy opened a shop in Croydon, filled with his artworks, called Gross Domestic Product. Except it never really opened. Fans flocked from all over the country to get their hands on his latest series of government bashing, irony-laden artworks only to find that this was unlike any other store or gallery.

Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Why did GDP never open? 

Rather than operate on the usual ‘first come first served’ basis of retail, Banksy decided to open a kind of lottery cum merit-based system for collectors wanting to buy his work. In order to get your hands on one of his pieces, you had to go to the GDP website and ‘apply’ for a product/artwork. As the website reads, “Gross Domestic Product (GDP) “may prove to be a disappointing retail experience – especially if you’re successful in making a purchase”…

So how could collectors buy artworks?

Firstly they could only buy one thing. Secondly, they were asked to answer the (age-old) question, ‘Why does art matter?’ Good luck with that one. Their responses were judged by comedian Adam Bloom and if he deemed them funny, enlightening, or original, their name would be entered into a lottery to ‘win’ the chosen artwork. Interestingly the request for answers was accompanied by a note assuring entrants they would retain copyright of their writing however they were also made aware that their work may be published by Banksy ‘in any media’, suggesting the vast amount of responses could be turned into an artwork themselves…

Why did he do this?

In order to weed out those who are only interested in ‘flipping’ his work on the market, of course. After all the site asked its customers to “Please buy an item because you like it, not because you think it is a good investment.”

After choosing to remain anonymous for decades while his art has become more and more valuable, Banksy has been forced to stand by and watch as fat cats and collectors have made huge profits on his works. His fame is so great that some have even gone as far as tearing down walls that bore his murals, acting in complete opposition to the spirit of this renegade graffiti artist whose art is primarily for the people. Last year, Banksy pulled off an incredible stunt that seemed to epitomise how he felt about the enormity of the secondary market for his art. As the hammer came down on one of his paintings, Girl With Balloon, at Sotheby’s London last October, a self destruct device was activated and the painting appeared to fall from its frame only to be shredded as the audience looked on in horror and amusement. The artist later made a video revealing how he had installed a shredding device into the work “in case it was ever put up for auction.”

Just a year later Banksy is back in the headlines with a shop of his own, bypassing auction houses, galleries and dealers to sell directly to his fans. In order to emphasise the message of accessibility, products can be bought by those on lower incomes for just £10. The website also bears a polite note to collectors hoping to make a quick profit: “Please refrain from registering at this time if you are a wealthy art collector”.

Is this some kind of nod to Keith Haring and his Pop Shops?

Sort of, except this isn’t an actual shop, remember. By taking merchandise into his own hands Banksy is both making his work more accessible to the people and taking care of his own brand. It has been reported that he only decided to start this venture after a greetings card company tried to reproduce some of his designs and create a Banksy trademark. With GDP he has been able to keep control of his name and sell directly to his fans, much in the way that American street artist KAWS has been operating since the opening of his Original Fake stores in 2006 and now with his website where his new toys are released.

So what’s on offer? 

Everything from the Union Jack emblazoned stab vest Stomrzy wore on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury this year while deriding Boris Johnson, to a handbag made out of a house brick for the kind of person who “doesn’t carry much but might need to whack someone in the face”. As well as unique signed paintings and limited edition prints, at the lower end of the price scale are a selection of mugs and t shirts – including one with a fringe designed to look like the shredded Girl With Balloon paintingthat are available in seemingly infinite amounts. Banksy was quick to point out though, that ‘All the products are made in an art studio, not a factory.’

Is that a dig at Warhol? 

Quite possibly. Anyone who is part of the canon or establishment is fair game in Banksy’s oeuvre, however the street artist arguably might never have become so big if artists such as Warhol, Basquiat – whom Banksy pays homage to in a print entitled Banksquiat in the shop – and Haring hadn’t paved the way for him in the 20th century by blurring the lines between street and gallery, art and commercialisation.

What does the art world make of all this?

The Art Newspaper described Banksy’s latest stunt in a somewhat skeptical tone, stating that, “It is all dressed up as humorous. … In an art market that is so often far removed from reality, laughter probably is the best recourse.” Speaking to the BBC, their correspondent Anny Shaw said, “It’s a tongue-in-cheek poke at the market while at the same time attempting to wrestle some control of it.” Other sites such as artnet and Hyperallergic seem to agree on the fact that this latest move on Banksy’s part will shake up the market for both primary and secondary sales of the artist’s work. Meanwhile art market adviser and analyst Ivan Macquisten commented, “Damien Hirst has always said that the marketing of his art is part of the artistic process – in fact possibly the most important part. With Banksy, this whole idea about control is becoming part of the artwork itself.” The BBC arts editor Will Gompetrz, however, appeared to be cynical about buyers’ intentions despite the artist’s efforts to weed out flippers, “With the shop, he’s trading on familiar ground – the relationship between art and commerce. Are they the same, as Andy Warhol famously said? Why does anybody want the product he’s offering, which he warns might disappoint? And yet a lot of people will.”

What about his fans?

Across Twitter and Instagram Banksy’s fanbase appear enraptured by the artist’s stunt and clever ploy to make consumers work for their product. One fan stated, “A cushion with the inscription ‘Life’s too short to take advice from a cushion’? SOLD!” while others commented, “I need banksy’s whole new GDP shop collection.” Some however, saw the move as a further ‘selling out’ on the artist’s part, commenting, “Wasn’t Banksy supposed to be art for the people without the need for payment? We all need money to survive I suppose…” and “All of this is really cool stuff but doesn’t the online website kinda go against the whole anti-consumerism idea portrayed in all his art?”

So what’s next now that the online shop has closed? 

Keep your eyes peeled for the opening of BBay, ‘The approved used Banksy dealership – coming soon’.  Accompanied by a picture of a man at a car boot sale selling Banksy knock offs – or originals – the website bears the tagline “your first choice destination to trade in secondhand work by a third-rate artist”. With the establishment of this site, will Banksy be hoping to corner the market in secondary sales of his own work? Does he think he can perhaps even put an end to record-breaking results at auction? The artist recently quoted art critic Robert Hughes, saying, “The price of a work of art is now part of its function, its new job is to sit on the wall and get more expensive.” along with the comment, “Record price for a Banksy painting set at auction tonight. Shame I didn’t still own it.”