With the world adjusting to self-isolation and global lockdowns and the stock market suffering, last week the Sotheby's Banksy auction offered hope to the art market and proved that art might just be the answer through these unprecedented times.
On Thursday 26th March, Sotheby’s announced that the online auction of the anonymous street artist’s prints fetched £1.1 million ($1.4 million), exceeding the pre-sale estimate by over £420,000. According to the auction house, more than 85 percent of lots exceeded their high estimates and all but one of the 25 lots on offer were sold.
Top lots from the sale included two versions of the artist’s Girl With Balloon, the motif depicted in the painting that was notoriously shredded at Sotheby’s London in 2018. A version with a pink balloon achieved £375,000, the top lot of the sale; a second version with a red balloon made £106,250.
Girl With Balloon first appeared as a mural on Waterloo Bridge in 2002 and has subsequently emerged in several other locations. The emotive image, illustrating hope and desire in contemporary life, has come to be the poster-child for the artist’s work and an icon of global street art.
Many of the artist’s other popular motifs made appearances as well, including Gangsta Rat and Di-Faced Tenners, a lithograph of a £10 note with Princess Diana’s face. All of these highly sought after prints are great examples of the artist’s work tackling the moralities of modern culture through urban art, which have made him one of today’s most relevant street artists. As he puts it, ‘Nobody ever listened to me until they didn't know who I was.’
While Banksy originals can fetch millions at major evening sales—the artist’s auction record of $12.2 million was set at Sotheby’s London last October—the artist produces prints in editions of 600, 750, and 1,000, making his work available at a variety of price points. The lowest price at the recent Sotheby’s sale was £11,875, for Banksy’s black-and-white screen print Flag.
“He speaks for a generation,” said Maeve Doyle, artistic director at Maddox Gallery. She’s fascinated by the way Banksy—once a sort of creative outlaw—has now been fully embraced by the straightlaced establishment. “As with everything in the art world, counterculture eventually becomes mainstream,” she said. But such populism isn’t always a bad thing. “If you go to Mexico, mechanics will know Banksy,” Doyle continued. “It’s wonderful.”
Marked by dark humour, satire and political commentary, his colourful multi-layered stencilled works appear unexpectedly in every corner of the world. Given the current global Pandemic, we're waiting impatiently to see what Banksy comes up with next.