Capitalism has a reputation for commodification in many forms. When the public takes action to work against a capitalist society,the ideas and support generated are various and creative, hidden mostly in literature, academia and the arts. An anonymous artist for over 20 years named Banksy is popular for his graffiti work and prints that usually have an anti – war, anti- capitalist viewpoint to provide and mock the current state of society as he sees it. Banksy has become one of the highest selling artists, and the most famous graffiti artist today through his controversial pieces spotted in city streets around the world. Since Banksy’s success as a street artist, his works have turned into profitable pieces that are sold for up to 7 figures to private clients which raises a question among common critics whether Banksy has become a part of the Capitalist system that his work is inspired to ridicule. Banksy is not a capitalist, but rather, his art has been commodified by capitalists.
Banksy is a stencil graffiti pop artist who’s identity goes unknown. Anyone can see Banksy’s stencil art, which enables him to reach a large audience and to make strong statements. City officials have the power to paint over works or allow them to stay. Even when his art is destroyed, it draws attention to political issues. The drama that follows after his art have caused people all around the world to be mystified by evidence of his presence, and commodifying his art as valuable pieces to be obtained. Art galleries and private sellers take advantage of this and when able to, sell his work for over hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Banksy made most of his money through a couple of documentaries, one, “Exit through the Gift Shop” which highlights the graffiti artist Mr. Brainwash and his rise to fame though pure hype shows Banksy’s attitude toward the commodification of an art form. In 2007, the day after Sotheby’s London sold three Banksy works, all of which soared above predicted values into the six figures, the elusive and anonymous British graffiti artist updated his website with an image of an auction house, the people in the room bidding on a picture with the written words “I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit” (Rham).
Bansky’s work usually is done on buildings so that they can be seen by everyone and not be sold or stolen. Despite his original efforts to prevent his work from becoming commodified, art galleries continue to excavate his work and auction pieces of his off. Sometimes they actually cut pieces out of the buildings that he paints on. Not all art galleries and exhibitions intend to sell his work, some, like the company 836M from San Francisco, do it purely to save his art from being destroyed or stolen so that it may be enjoyed by others for free. 836M started a Kickstarter campaign in order to fund the excavation and shipping of the Haight Street Rat that appeared 5 years ago over the Red Victorian Hotel. It is now publicly displayed through July at a San Francisco art gallery for free viewing (McWilliams).
His work and his stories are live examples of capitalism at work which is yet another statement and example of the society we live in today that he expresses through his art. Just like an activist on television or a teacher in a school, Banksy spreads the message of the perversion of capitalism and the rule of the commodity in our society today among other things.
Find the Haight Street Rat on display at 836M Studio for free
Photo Courtesy of http://www.StencilArchive.org
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San Francisco, CA 94133
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Gathering solid facts about Bansky is rather difficult, in fact, all of the assumptions about his work and his reasons could be false. I have been able to gather information from pieces of other articles and sources online and post the sources below.
Rahm, Danielle. Banksy: The $20 Million Graffiti Artist Who Doesn’t Want His Art To Be Worth Anything. http://www.forbes.com/sites/daniellerahm/2013/10/22/banksy-the-20-million-graffiti-artist-who-doesnt-want-his-art-to-be-worth-anything/ 22 October 2013. Last accessed on 18 May 2015.
Author: unknown. Stencil Revolution. http://www.stencilrevolution.com/profiles/about-banksy/ Last accessed on 18 May 2015
McWilliams, Molly. http://www.sfweekly.com/exhibitionist/2014/12/18/banksys-haight-street-rat-is-coming-home-to-san-francisco. 18 December 2014. Last accessed on 18 May 2015