Laughing all the way to the Banksy…
Contemporary art and large price tags continue to make close bedfellows in a month that saw the sale of £1m worth of Banksy’s art, and heralded the arrival of the fifth annual Frieze Art Fair to the capital. Good times for the elusive Bristol-born graphic artist and graffiti legend Banksy, whose art was snapped-up by Hollywood power-couple Angelina Jolie-Pitt and Brad Pitt at an auction run by Soho gallery Lazarides, and hosted at the Shadow Lounge bar on the 11th October. His art graces not only the walls of the rich and famous but also on buildings and landmarks throughout London and other cities around the world. Notorious for concealing his identity and anonymously hanging his own work in the Tate, perhaps this self-designed aura of mystery and myth-making that is ‘Banksy’ has proven the perfect springboard for financial success and recognition in the contemporary art scene, itself a bastion of spectacle and provocation, of boundary-pushing and big spenders.
Art has become a commodity of sorts to a wide section of upwardly mobile individuals, including city workers, wealthy non-doms and another more recognisable, though probably no less obscure bunch of people: celebrities. Steve Lazarides, Banksy’s agent, feels the boom in contemporary art purchase is down to its relevance to younger generations of society matched to their disposable incomes.
Charles Saatchi and his penchant for buying-up everything in sight to add to his extensive art collection, that started with the YBA’s in the early 90’s, the huge sponsorship of shows and exhibitions by corporate giants (deutsche Bank and Unilever anyone?) and the out-pricing of art by the old masters, creates a climate in which there’s a race to the auction room finish line for the latest ‘next best thing’ and also enough demand for the supply of art seen at fairs like Frieze.
Of course the cultural (and financial) currency of art is no new thing, but perhaps the real difficulty is found in the criticisms about the actual quality of much of it, or the over-reliance, by some, of a provocative message over technical and artistic competency. Whatever, Banksy is to be congratulated for such success, and equally for creating art that is accessible at the most basic level; whilst simply walking down the street. We can all enjoy his work, without paying a penny.
by Hayley Thatcher
Illustration by Eduard Castells