Banksy is the pseudonym of an unknown English street artist known for his distinctive stencil artworks. His works often depict social and political messages that try to spark conversation around issues such as capitalism, consumerism, injustice, and government surveillance. Despite his anonymity and counter-culture bent, Banksy has achieved mainstream global acclaim, with his original stencil paintings selling for millions of dollars at auction houses and galleries, and some becoming well-known cultural references (such as the Girl with Balloon).
Even though I don’t personally care for his art, I have to admit that Banksy could appeal to me from an investment perspective. Banksy is one of the few artists that is a household name across the world, with all manner of people, collectors or not, art enthusiasts or not, able to recognize and appreciate his style. This means that the potential number of people that would ever think about purchasing a Banksy artwork is immense (perhaps the greatest for any living artist?), which can make him a rather attractive investment option.
I haven’t heard any convincing reason why his popularity should waver moving forward. According to Artsy, last year, of the 220 prints that went up for auction, 85% sold, at a price 41% above its estimate on average.
So, what options exist for a beginner art collector when it comes to Banksy? Unfortunately, I do not entirely trust the lower-end of the market when it comes to his artworks. I would recommend any potential collector apply extra scrutiny to any artwork that is selling below $5,000. The demand is so strong, and artworks so few, that work below this price are typically unverified artwork, sometimes with dubious providence and provenance, with a chance that they are counterfeits (the incentive for counterfeiters is huge considering the demand and ease of reproducing Banksy’s art).
Banksy’s prints are the most frequently collected items. He usually produces two editions of each image – one signed in a limited edition of 150, which tends to be more expensive, and a larger unsigned edition of 600 works. Approximately 70 Banksy print editions have been released in the past 20 years, resulting in an estimated total of ~50,000 prints.
The signed copies are obviously highly sought after but not crazily more expensive than the unsigned (maybe by a factor of 1.5 to 2). Artist Proof copies of these prints are where the real money is at because there is typically a unique element in each (there are about 80 APs per edition). In March 2021, Sotheby’s sold Banksy’s AP Girl With Balloon (Gold) print for £1.1 million, making it one of the artist’s highest-selling prints to date.
If you are looking for artwork below $5,000, there are some things you can do to avoid the chance of purchasing a fake Banksy. The first important thing you can do is only purchase through a reputable auction house or gallery, because they will have likely reached out to Banksy verification team (Pest Control Office) to determine the authenticity of the artwork. Individuals can also contact the Pest Control Office and ask to authenticate an artwork, but this is perhaps a process that you would like to avoid due to the associated costs and the fact that it is difficult to request authentication without having the artwork in your possession (and trying to authenticate it after you have purchased it is incredibly risky).
Even still, any Banksy artwork of any real value can be too expensive for most beginner investors. An option that can make it more affordable for beginner investors are art funds (like those offered by Masterworks or Yieldstreet) which offer fractional shares in verified Banksy artworks. In the case of Banksy, I tend to lean toward investing via an art fund due to the risk of counterfeits. Art Funds effectively take the guess work out of whether the artwork is authentic. The only downside of an art fund is that you don’t get to live with the artwork.