My favourite story of the week this week is the one about Banksy putting up a selection of his canvases for sale on a market stall in New York for the day. The best bit of the story? Hardly anyone bought any of the canvasses (just three people) and one woman even haggled over the price and got herself a real bargain.
I think this is a very powerful stunt and illustrates some interesting truths about the art world and human nature. Firstly, people have expectations about the quality of artworks sold on a market stall. They expect them to be mass-produced, amateur and cheap. They expect them to be of little real value and certainly not original in any way. And it seems they don’t expect them to be even worth much of a look (since only three people actually bothered). Secondly, the public is heavily influenced by location and knowledge. If these artworks had been for sale at auction or in a gallery, people would have been prepared to pay much higher prices. In addition, if the people who happened upon this market stall had known that the canvases were by an artist whose works have sold for thousands they would have snapped up the pieces without even a second thought for whether they actually liked them or not. But they did not know this, so most just walked past.
This of course was a stunt. Banksy is currently in New York acting as an official artist in residence. He has been making his presence known in New York in a number of amusing and clever ways.
With this one-day only market stall, Banksy was making a point about who validates art and values art and what makes one piece of artwork more valuable than another. Clearly a good point very well made. He was also emphasizing his firm belief that art should be available to the public and not an elite group of well-off people or people who visit art galleries. It is a rather sad irony that the public didn’t seem hugely interested in his art. I suspect that it was because they made the assumption that what they saw were cheap pieces of ‘familiar-looking street art’ or Banksy copies and therefore not worth spending money on.
‘British Graffiti artist causes a stir in New York’, BBC News website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-24484453 [last accessed 16 October 2013]