The arts and entertainment media is ablaze right now. No. It’s not the US debt limit, Obamacare or Twerking. It’s Banksy, a renown British graffiti artist, who has set off an “art invasion” of sorts in the streets of New York. US media has found his wit ideal in the social media sensitive world that we now evolve. Entities from the Today Show, CNN to Slate.com are consuming every little piece of concrete provocation.
The phenomena is really nothing new to the fine art world – except the reactions and questions being raised by the artist involved strikes at the heart of what distinguishes “Fine Art” from causal, hobby-lobby art. Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Herring understood the mechanisms at play. The same is true with today’s working group of “street” artists. From Space Invader to the Long Island corridors covered by JR and Peter Tunney works, art for everyone is suddenly available to everyone visually. No museums or galleries needed. At least on the surface.
To use a boxing analogy, in the right corner we have the art establishment. This would range from auctions to galleries to striving pioneer “fine artists” seeking academic and financial recognition. In the left corner – the emerging underdog seeking recognition, fame and a little respect financially and culturally. The challenge for collectors is who sets and defines what is “fine, collectable” art.
While the “establishment” sits and wonders, the street artist is impacting culture and discussions daily. Banksy – whose involvement in tagging globally revolves partly with a political overtone – has taken residency in NY during October. What matters is his jabs and foot work as he spars with the uninformed public in his satirical and provocative manner. One would think his works sell today because of his ability to invoke a visual dialogue.
The constant issue for not just fine artists but any product that is to be sold is – At what price should I sell it? In Banksy’s case his works have a political value, a visual value along with a social value. Gothomist kindly pointed this out the other day when a Banksy wood chipper cut down a parking sign.
When he undertakes major installations – as he did with a graffiti painted elephant in his 2006 Los Angeles exhibition “Barely Legal” – Banksy enhances his significance to warrant more than $60 for a stenciled work. Yet the unsuspecting public, consumed by their life issues, can miss his immediacy – and a blaring opportunity.
The value that Banksy adds to the fine art world’s collectible vs. junk debate is: Did the emotional response from a visual message move you so much that you absolutely had to own it for your collection? Banksy’s works typically sell for a few hundred thousand dollars and up. Sotheby’s Feburary 2008 benefit auction brought in $1.87 million for his “Keep it Spotless” work on canvas. Yet placed in the wrong location with the wrong audience the works can be overlooked and grossly undervalued. A real estate professional lives and dies by the mantra LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. A movie director has to know the target audience for a film to succeed. And from the fine artist perspective, and as Banksy proves, context is key to creating a collectable.
Place a work in a tourist spot amongst other trinket and locket sellers – you will receive trinket sales. Placed before an informed and aware populace – you should expect a just price because of contextual demand.
Whether that demand is for only 1 or for thousands really depends on the strength of the “hype” machine found behind the fine artist and the collector’s perceived and real value.