October 30, 2013
Since the beginning of October, Banksy has been quite literally making his mark on the city of New York. The world renowned graffiti artist from Bristol has been creating one piece of street art every day, and uploading the pictures onto a dedicated website. From the quintessentially ‘Banksy’ stencilled spray paintings, to sculpture and even live art installations, the pieces are extremely varied and bring something unique with every day.
One of the most interesting ‘pieces’ was on the 13th October. In central park, Banksy set up a stall on the street selling genuine signed canvases of his most iconic images, for $60 a piece (click here to watch the video). Accompanied by a seemingly unsuspecting and disinterested old man, the stall looked to be a rip-off to a passer-by in a city where cheap knock-off Banksy canvases are in abundance.
Little did they know that these $60 canvases were worth thousands.
Over 7 hours, only three people bought a total of 8 canvases, unknowing of the secret fortune they just inherited.
It works as a great example of the value of art; well, the value of things in general. Things are worth something because of the perception we have of them, and this perception is shaped more by the context of the thing than the content itself.
There’s a great example of this where Joshua Bell, a world renowned violinist, busked on the Washington Subway and earned $32 (read more here). The commuters were totally unaware that they were being treated to a virtuoso performance that could cost up to $200 in a concert hall. It’s sort of the same here with Banksy. However perhaps crucially, I would argue that one example demonstrates an occasional blindness to genuine excellence from our over-reliance on contextual factors (the violinist), while the other uses its own generalizability that lends itself to reproduction, to poke fun at the perhaps ludicrous amounts of money that a ‘geniune’ piece of art is actually worth in comparison to it’s pretty much identical ‘fakes’.
Often, our tastes tend to adhere to a prescribed notion of excellence, the parameters of which are set out by someone else – a critic, an institution, or even a celebrity. Perhaps though we are seeing this break down slightly. In an online community where anyone can write a review or create their own content, perhaps tastes and value are beginning to be defined from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.
The thing is, I can waffle on with attempted semi-intellectual musings on this for hours and not really achieve anything, but what it really comes down to is that it’s bloody brilliant that for probably the only time ever, Banksy was selling genuine signed pieces for $60, and three lucky people hit the jackpot.
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