The mystery behind the Banksy NFT auction

By Raffaele Redi

Currency.com asked Paul Gogh from Arts University Bournemouth to enlighten bidders

Spy Booth mural by Banksy                                 
Spy Booth mural by Banksy – Photo: CosmicWire
                                

The mystery of the Banksy Spy Booth mural is once more stirring up the art world as the platform Cosmic Wire declared its intention to auction off its hybrid non-fungible tokens (NFTs) alongside nine pieces of the wall this Friday (8 October).

According to the platform, the original auction had to be rescheduled because of “torrential web traffic overloading and crashing website and auction servers. 

Banksy’s famed Spy Booth mural appeared overnight on a wall in Cheltenham, England in 2014, but as Artnet reported, the artwork was first vandalised in 2014, then disappeared completely as the property on which the mural was painted was made subject to an ‘urgent works notice’ from the local authority, Cheltenham Borough Council.

The Banksy website recently released a warning that said: “Members of the public should be aware there has been a recent spate of Banksy exhibitions, none of which are consensual. They’ve been organised entirely without the artist's knowledge or involvement. Please treat them accordingly”.  So Banksy experts are now wondering whether the new NFT auction could be a prank or not.

Currency.com asked Professor Paul Gogh from Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) if he could shed any light on the subject.

“Entirely plausible”

Prof Gogh, who is AUB’s principal and vice-chancellor, has written extensively about street art, including editing a book on the street artist Banksy. According to him, it is very possible that the pieces offered are indeed from the original mural, while the company affirms that it has obtained documentation to that effect from the owner of the house.

"We have the actual chain of custody documentation and provenance through to the owner of the house where the mural was painted on for these nine physical pieces that are part of the auction. This documentation will be provided to the auction winner, a Cosmic Wire spokesperson told Currency.com.

“It’s entirely plausible that these are remnants from the original piece in Cheltenham: work by the artist and his circle tends to circulate, and fragments are easier to sell on the open market than large slabs or walls taken from their original location,” said prof Gogh.

“Without setting eyes across the work and studying each piece in detail, it's hard to give an authoritative reading of the art, but from what I can see online the colouration and the resemblance to the original seems authentic,” he added.

The NFTs under the magnifying glass

Analysing the NFT previews, courtesy of Cosmic Wire, Gogh said the fragments appear extremely well-matched with the original.

“I have studied a high-resolution photograph of the original piece and the three fragments appear extremely well matched for the quality of the stencilling, the depth of the tonality, and the overall colouration, though clearly there has been some degradation over time,” he said.

Moreover, the sale comes as Christie’s and Sotheby’s are about to auction off two masterpieces from Banksy.

 Love Is In The Bin will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s on the evening of 14 October and is expected to sell for between £4m and £6m ($5.5m-£8.2m), while Girl With Balloon, Banksy’s vision of innocence and hope, will be auctioned by Christie’s the day after and is estimated to be worth between £2.5m and £3.5m.

“The NFT has become a recent aspect in the promotion of Banksy’s work, though the original pieces that are offered for sale need little incentive or further promotion. This is because the artist's work will always attract global attention, high prices at auction or other salesrooms, and a fascination fuelled by popular acclaim and media interest in its innate edginess,” says Gough.

“So, unlikely to be a prank – though the addition of the NFT is part of the overall sales pitch and thus far not owned or claimed by the artist,” he says.

Banksy's team did not responded immediately to a request for comment.

Further reading: Banksy’s first NFT auction could be a prank

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