Top results and tech problems rounded off a month of Banksy print auctions. Three sales in London and online at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Forum totalled an astounding £10.6 million in under 30 days, setting new record prices for over two dozen artworks. Here we discuss the outward successes and hidden costs for their buyers and sellers.
The three sales averaged £92,141 per print
127 prints were offered between Forum, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, of which 115 sold. The three auction houses took in a total of £10,596,230, which were split between:
- Forum’s ‘Only Banksy’ on 5 March: 25 lots sold, £2,048,800 total with fees
- Sotheby’s ‘Banksy2021’ online auction from 9–18 March: 46 lots sold, £4,086,180 total with fees
- Christie’s ‘I can’t believe you morons actually buy this sh*t’ online auction from 16 March – 1 April: 44 lots sold, £4,461,250 total with fees
The highest prices paid were £475,000, for a signed edition of Girl with Balloon and a signed edition of Love is in the Air, both in Christie’s online auction. The lowest price was £26,000, for an unsigned Flag (Silver) at Forum.
Despite these tremendous results, it is worth noting that selling with these auction houses come at a price. All three companies charge not only a premium for buyers but also a commission for sellers, sometimes even if the artwork does not sell (the owners of the 12 Banksy prints that did not sell might be poorer than they started). Christie’s even charges an additional 2% Performance Commission fee if an artwork sells above its high estimate. In contrast, it is completely free to sell with MyArtBroker.
88 artworks exceeded their high estimates
At Sotheby’s auction, only one artwork did not sell for above its high estimate: an artist’s proof of Toxic Mary in a rare gold and pink colourway, which was only £300 shy of meeting the top end of its estimate range. The biggest jump was for an unsigned edition of HMV, which sold for £52,920 against an estimate of £6,000-8,000, nearly nine times its low estimate.
While this is likely joyous news for the seller, it can be a nightmare for buyers. One of the best parts of an auction is the excitement of the bidding, but this can quickly turn sour when buyers realise they have agreed to pay far more than they intended in the heat of the moment.
These mistakes do not happen when buying via private sales. As a buyer, you will put in an offer on the artwork that you want and this is accepted, rejected or discussed further with the seller. Both parties leave with a price they are satisfied with.
25 new print auction records were set
Over the 25 days, records were set and set again between the three auction houses – demonstrating the continuous demand for Banksy prints and the strength of the market.
Girl with Balloon remains one of Banksy’s most sought-after prints. The signed edition that sold for £475,000 at Christie’s saw an 8% increase in value on the previous record set by Sotheby’s online auction in September 2020.
Tech issues at Christie’s infuriated buyers and sellers
Christie’s online auction originally closed on 30 March, totalling £3.9 million. Within hours, however, bidding reopened and the sale was extended until 1 April – to the confusion of collectors and observers.
“Total shambles, second sale in a row with major internet issues from one of the top two auction houses in the world. I would not be surprised if some winning bidders are on the phone now to their lawyers,” remarked user Pattycakes on an Urban Art Association thread. “They can’t do this, what is this ebay?” added a user called gross. Others on the thread speculated that the sale extension was a response to a DDOS attack, too much traffic to the website or a hack, rendering the previous results invalid. Christie’s has not issued a statement about why they extended the auction.
When the sale eventually closed on 1 April, the new total was £4.5million – nearly 13% higher than two days earlier. Five artworks had made new record prices on 30 March, this increased to seven – a signed edition of Nola (White Rain) and a signed Soup Can achieved higher prices second time around. The top lots, Girl with Balloon and Love is in the Air sold for £475,000 both times.
No doubt some collectors have enjoyed a far better result, but some may be disappointed with now losing their winning bid or getting a worse return than before.
The rise in online auctions has been fantastic for introducing new and younger buyers across the world to investing in art, but only if the technology can support it. Clearly, the IT system at Christie’s is not up to date enough to meet the demands of the modern collector.
Banksy auctions are earlier and bigger
This is Christie’s third annual ‘I can’t believe you morons actually buy this sh*t’ online auction. Launched in September 2019, the first instalment offered 30 lots and totalled £1.1 million. The second instalment in September 2020 offered just 21 lots but still totalled £2.1 million, close to double the previous year. But not only is this year’s instalment earlier by six months, it is also larger. At 47 lots, it is the largest Banksy-only sale Christie’s has held.
This trend is also happening at Forum and Sotheby’s. Forum launched their first Banksy-only auction in December 2020 but followed up with their second sale close to a month later, on 27 January 2021, and recently again on 5 March 2021.
Last year, Sotheby’s held their Banksy | Online auction over 14 days in March, totalling £1.08 million in 25 lots. This year, they closed their Banksy-only online sale after only running for 10 days, but offered almost double the lots and achieved a total of £4.09 million.
While it appears that there are more opportunities than ever to sell or buy a Banksy print, these auctions are still tied to an annual sale calendar and artworks are confirmed weeks, if not months, before bidding opens. Most auction houses also only offer one version of a signed or unsigned print in each sale to avoid the same editions competing against each other. Despite bigger and more frequent sales, auctions are still not the place to go if you want to sell a Banksy whenever you want.