Ever fancied buying a Banksy? Then you’re not alone. 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.
Buying and selling art can be a murky business at times though, with forgers and fraudsters out to con everyone, from amateur art critics to experienced dealers. So, whether you’re in the market for a Banksy or a Lowry, a Warhol or a Hirst, it’s vital you do your homework to make sure you’re getting exactly what you’ve paid for.
But how exactly do you go about buying a Banksy? And how can you be sure that what you’re getting isn’t just an overpriced print or, even worse, a bogus Banksy?
We’ll show you how Pest Control can help confirm your Banksy is the real deal, but let’s first take a look at exactly how the Bristolian street-scribbler became so popular, and whether Banksy fraud really is that much of a big deal.
- Why is Banksy so popular?
- What are the most expensive Banksy’s?
- Is Banksy fraud a big deal?
- What is POW?
- Is Banksy a fraud?
- How to tackle art fraud with Banksy authentication
- What is Pest Control?
- How can I verify my Pest Control Banksy certificate?
- Are there any other ways to verify the authenticity of a Banksy?
- Which prints have Pest Control?
- Why doesn’t my print have Pest Control?
Why is Banksy so popular?
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, also definitely add 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 – last year, a Brexit-inspired mural appeared on the side an abandoned amusement arcade in Dover, while this year has seen, a stencilled design showing a child holding a wooden sword with a pencil attached to the end, has popped up on a bridge in Hull.
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?
It’s difficult to believe that a piece of contemporary graffiti art could fetch a seven-figure sum, but that’s exactly what Banksy’s 2007 Keep It Spotless piece did in January 2008. Sold at auction in New York, the canvas was originally a Damien Hirst painting that had been defaced by Banksy, which probably went some way to pushing its final price up to a whopping $1,870,000 dollars.
That’s not the only million-dollar Banksy out there, either – Simple Intelligence Testing is a five-part oil on canvas from 2000, the fifth of which is signed by the artist. It sold $1,265,120 in a Sotheby’s sale in London, just a month after ‘Keep It Spotless’ was sold for the record fee.
Then there are several pieces that have sold for around the $500,000 mark, including:
- Submerged Phone Booth – Banksy has proven he’s more than just a graffiti artist with some subversive sculptures, of which Submerged Phone Booth is one of the most famous. This 2006 metal, acrylic and glass sculpture went for £722,500 at a contemporary art evening sale, at Phillips London in October 2014.
- Bacchus at the Seaside – Banksy’s take on Guido Reni’s 1621 masterpiece Bacchus and Ariadne saw the artist cut out the faces of the painting’s two Ovidian protagonists and introduced a strategically placed fluorescent traffic cone to cover Bacchus’s genitals, in a nod to bawdy British seaside postcards. This vandalised oil painting was sold for £669,000 at auction in Sotheby’s, London, in March 2018.
- The Rude Lord – Originally a Thomas Beach oil-on-canvas from 1776, Banksy added a hand raising its middle finger in 2006. It subsequently sold for $658,025 in a Sotheby’s sale in October 2007.
- Vandalised Phone Box – Another of Banksy’s phone box sculptures, Vandlaised Phone Box was made and installed in Soho Square, London, in 2005, and fetched $605,000 at a Sotheby’s sale in New York in February 2008.
- Silent Majority – Painted during the 1998 Glastonbury Festival, this spray paint and metal piece shows soldier-like figures landing on a beach with a speaker in an inflatable raft. It was sold for €625,399 at Digard, Urban Contemporary Art, in June 2015.
- Space Girl and Bird – Originally commissioned by Blur in 2003 as cover art for their Think Tank album, the stencilled spray paint on steel created a world record when it sold for $575,813 at a Bonham’s auction in London in April 2007.
- Monkey Detonator – In what appears to be a swipe at the self-destructiveness of humanity, this 2002 stencil spray paint and emulsion on canvas sees an anthropomorphic monkey about to blow up a stash of bananas. It sold for £513,000 at a Sotheby’s London auction in March 2018.
- Happy Shopper – This eight-foot-tall sculpture took a classic female museum statue and gave it modern-day makeover, complete with oversized sunglasses and laden down with department store shopping bags in a swipe at contemporary consumerism. It fetched £506,000 at a contemporary art evening sale, at Phillips London in February 2014.
- Queen Victoria – This is classic Banksy as iconoclast and part of a series that angered both the royal family and the British press – understandably so as it depicts the monarch in a lesbian clinch with a prostitute. Originally made in 2002, this oil-on-canvas was sold in October 2008 at a Sotheby’s sale in London for $478,095.
- Insane Clown – Made in 2001, the spray paint on Hessian piece had been with Lazarides Gallery in London before it sold for $481,165 at a Phillips de Pury Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London in February 2008.
- Laugh Now – Originally commissioned The Ocean Rooms, a now-defunct, Brighton nightclub, this spray paint on painted board was made in three parts and measured six metres when placed together. It was auctioned at Bonhams Urban Art auction in London in February 2008 for $449,349, six years after it was completed.
- David – Another of Banksy’s sculptures, this almost life-size, fiberglass statue is a depiction of Michelangelo’s famous statue of David – the twist being in this iteration he is wearing a bomb disposal jacket. Banksy went on to make a number of other versions of this statue, one famously wearing a suicide bomber’s vest and a scarf obscuring its face, but the original sold for $416,742 at a Sotheby’s auction in London in October 2007.
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, the handling service set up by Banksy, found that 226 works of art, including 89 street pieces and 137 screen prints, that 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.
What is POW?
Pictures on Walls (POW) began life in 2003 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 soon became a victim of its own success though, and as more and more of its artists 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 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.
Is Banksy 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 his detractors 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.
How to tackle art fraud with Banksy authentication
Pest Control art authentication is the best way to circumvent the conmen and make sure any Banksy you’re buying is genuine. To get a Banksy Pest Control certificate, here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Fill in this form, including high-resolution images 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.
- Once you’ve submitted the form, you’ll get an email containing your authentication request number from either ‘[email protected]’ or ‘[email protected]’ (check your spam and junk folders).
- 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.
If you have multiple Banksy’s that require Pest Control art authentication, you’ll need to fill out a separate form for each.
What is Pest Control?
Pest Control is the place to go to make sure your Banksy is the real deal. 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 answer any questions you have to determine whether he was responsible and issue a Pest Control Banksy certificate if this is the case.
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.”
The peace of mind will be well worth the wait though, and Pest Control only deals with authentic works of art and has no involvement with any kind of illegal activity.
How can I verify my Pest Control Banksy certificate?
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 info[at]myartbroker.com, and we’ll reply to your query or give you a call back if you wish.
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 verifications 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.
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, and 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 though.
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.
For more information on selling a Banksy, check out our comprehensive seller’s guide to Banksy.
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.
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 Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.