Surprise, surprise: the hype surrounding Exit Through the Gift Shop has proven lucrative for street artist Banksy, bumping up the sale price of ten recent works by an average of 25% over their presale estimates. Sotheby’s of London sold “Heavy Weaponry,” a painting of an elephant with a machine gun strapped to its back, for 82,250 pounds (about $135,000) last week. It had been estimated to sell for 18,000 pounds. Apparently it doesn’t even matter that Exit Through the Gift Shop didn’t win an Oscar!
Banksy’s the king of hype, and no one knows who he is. What’s interesting is that the film itself satirizes the commercialization of the art world, suggesting, via the meteoric success of hack artist “Mr. Brainwash,” that the whole system is kind of cheap and empty. That’s the very same art world that’s being so kind to Banksy right now.
I don’t know whether Banksy is a sellout or just smart. Although, hasn’t the whole concept of “selling out” been over since Andy Warhol? I think that’s what Banksy is trying to say — the line is so blurred at this point between “underground” and “mainstream” artists, as evidenced by Banksy himself, that it doesn’t really matter. Or this is all a huge joke and we’re not in on it. Or it’s on us. Or something.
As he said about the Oscars, “I don’t agree with the concept of award ceremonies, but I’m prepared to make an exception for the ones I’m nominated for.” Banksy acknowledges the system and flouts it in the same breath. Anyway, if you’re looking to buy an original Banksy, expect to shell out a bit more than expected.