The street artist Banksy has remarkable name recognition, drawing international attention for his daring, controversial, and artistic graffiti that pops up, seemingly magically, in unexpected spots. For example, he added nine works to the heavily patrolled Israeli West Bank barrier in 2005, and he snuck into the elephant enclosure at the Bristol Zoo to leave graffiti reading, “I want out.” Yet the artist also remains totally anonymous; no one knows who he is, what he looks like, or how he manages to sneak in to tag buildings, walls, and enclosures, without anyone noticing.
He recently announced that he would be spending a month in New York, and social media already has been inundated with sightings of his artwork throughout the city. Banksy might announce that he has tagged someplace (check out his website, http://www.banksyny.com), but he rarely releases the location in advance. It is up to his many followers to find the piece, and as soon as they do, Twitter and Instagram are filled with updates and photos. Others then rush to the site, to be able to see a Banksy masterwork in person.
The rush is necessary because Banksy’s choice of medium—namely, the locations where other graffiti practitioners also create their works—means that his art can quickly be covered by another artist or even by public works departments that are tasked with covering all graffiti. Yet in a recent case, Banksy’s graffiti on the side of a rundown building in East New York prompted local entrepreneurs to cover it with a piece of cardboard and charge tourists from the rest of the city $20 to view the piece.
Fans were willing to pay that much for a glimpse; Banksy’s original work on canvas can sell for thousands of dollars each. And yet, as if to demonstrate that it is largely his brand that defines the value of his work, Banksy set up a table in Central Park, selling “spray art” for just $60 per canvas. Without any signals that it was by Banksy (though the works clearly reflect his style and preferred subject matters), sales were slow. He indicated that only $420 worth of art sold all day, and one of the sales was a two-for-one deal negotiated by the buyer.
Source: James Barron, “Racing to See Banksy Graffiti, While It Can Still Be Seen,” The New York Times, October 15, 2013; Michael Brenner, “Graffiti Artist Banksy Proves that Context Is Everything,” Forbes, October 16, 2013,