Last week, Sotheby’s and Christie’s hosted online sales of works by Banksy through their London locations… they were not originals, but prints; however, given his aura, they made some impressive prices. Before we get into it, I have to say that it is pretty remarkable people are willing to spend this kind of money on prints… why not support an emerging artist you love and buy an original?! And I’m clearly not the only one who thinks it… I mean, Christie’s sale was titled “Banksy: I can’t believe you morons actually buy this sh*t.” I don’t know who is responsible for that but… you said it, not me.
Sotheby’s closed their 27-lot offering on September 18th – every lot that sold surpassed its estimate (note that estimates do not include buyer’s premium, while realized prices do) … I’ll take this moment to mention several lots were not only pulled from the auction page on Sotheby’s website, but shockingly were not listed on one of the main auction databases either – lot 2 showed as “withdrawn” but lots 16, 18 and 22 simply had no listing… I would assume they were unsold or also withdrawn. In any case, the top lot was the now infamous Girl with Balloon. You may remember a few years ago, an original of the same image was fed through an automatic shredder just after it was auctioned for more than £1M! (the crazy thing is that it is probably worth more now after that whole fiasco). This unframed version, print number 16 of 150, was expected to bring between £80-120K… after 24 bids, it found a buyer for £438.5K. In second was a 2008 print numbered 30 of 31, of his image NOLA (Green Rain), which attracted 25 bids and climbed to £226.8K – it was only expected to bring between £50-70K.
Just behind in third was Love Is In The Air, a full-color print from 2003 numbered 51 of 500… yup, there are 500 copies of it in the edition. This one was expected to sell for a mere £15-20K, but attracted 37 bids and climbed to £214.2K! As I mentioned, all the sold lots surpassed their estimate… and not just by a bit; most of them were three to six times the estimate. As a result, the expected ˞£400-600K sale ballooned to more than £2M.
Christie’s offered 22 lots, similarly with all sold lots surpassing their estimate… in this sale, it seems just one work went unsold (or was withdrawn) – given the lack of clarity, I’m not going to get into sell-through rates. The top lot here was another version of Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (Purple) … this was from the artist’s proof (AP) edition, which is comprised of 88 artist’s proofs in various colors – this one was numbered AP64. Expected to sell for £250-350K, the work found a buyer at £791.25K, more than twice the high end of the estimate. In second was Christ with Shopping Bags (73 of 82), which was only projected to sell between £30-50K; it sold for £175K. In third was a print from the NOLA (White) series – 205 of 289. This one was expected to bring between £45-55K, and got up to £118.75K. Across the board, the estimates were a bit higher than Sotheby’s and were marginally more in line with the realized prices – as a whole, the sold lots were expected to bring between ˞£600-870K but topped Sotheby’s as they totaled £2.1M.
It should be noted that in the UK, there is something called Artist’s Resale Rights… all of the lots in both sales were subject to it, and it functions as a small “fee” similar to the Buyer’s Premium – the first £50K at 4%, scaling down to .25% when prices realize more than £500K. So, every time a print is resold, Banksy is getting some of that money… All that makes me think about is how many different color editions of each of these prints exist, and how big each of those editions are… there must be tens of thousands of prints out there. THEY ARE PRINTING MONEY!! But, I am definitely not thinking “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this sh*t.”