The Ins and Outs of <i>How To Sell a Banksy</i>

The Ins and Outs of <i>How To Sell a Banksy</i>

L to R: Art co-owner Reino Lehtonen-Riley and co-director Christopher Thompson show off their infamous Banksy

In 2007, when London-based moviemakers Christopher Thompson and Alper Cagatay made the decision to “acquire” a piece of art by legendary street artist Banksy—whose Space Girl and Bird sold for $575,000 at Bonham’s auction house in 2007—and find a buyer for it, neither of them knew exactly what they were getting into. Having no prior experience dealing with galleries, collectors, authentication boards or, really, the art world in general, the pair’s quest to restore, authenticate, evaluate, exhibit and eventually sell the piece was a long and arduous one. Fortunately they took their video camera along for the journey, resulting in the new the documentary film, How to Sell a Banksy.
When Thompson and Cagatay got the presumed Banksy, the piece was in poor shape—the result of using spatulas to scrape it off its original home on a railway bridge in London—and, by Thompson’s own admission, looked like “some shreds of paper stuck in a frame.”
In attempting to find a buyer for the work, however, its poor condition was in some ways a less important issue than the ability to prove the work’s provenance. “You can trace ownership of a piece of art all the way back to the original artist, but if that artist refuses to confirm it’s his, art buyers get nervous that you’re trying to pull a fast one,” says Thompson.
For street art, the issue of ownership is a particularly thorny one; artists tend to paint their work anonymously, as the “installation” process is oftentimes illegal. The Banksy-endorsed “handling service” Pest Control will authenticate Banksy’s work, with the exception of his early pieces, which were created without permission before the artist’s fame had begun to develop.
“Pest Control deals only with legitimate works of art and has no involvement with any kind of illegal activity,” states the company’s Website.
That’s a problem for Thompson and Cagatay, as the piece they came across is from Banksy’s early period, when “there was a ton of Banksy’s work [around],” says Thompson. “Everyone local knew where they were and thought they were pretty cool, but this was well before Banksy was who he is today.”
The moviemakers’ efforts to sell the piece have yet to come to fruition, but the film they made of their experiences serves as an intriguing commentary on the establishment that has sprung up around a decidedly anti-establishment figure, one whose art has raked in millions of dollars… despite having been put out on the street for free. ABN
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—Rebecca Pahle

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