LONDON — Banksy has always had a complicated relationship with the art market. His unsanctioned street works deliberately challenge the idea of art as a tradeable commodity, but often still end up at auction, commanding astronomical prices. A stunt last year during which his “Girl with a Balloon” (2006) self-destructed at a Sotheby’s sale seemed like a rebuke to the art market, but in fact simply doubled the piece’s value.
But as of this week, Banksy has officially gone into business. A new installation of his work, unveiled on Tuesday, features a storefront filled with branded merchandise. Although Banksy has exhibited his works in storefront installations before, this is the first time that the items are for sale. All of the products will go on sale online in a couple of weeks with prices starting at £10. Gross Domestic Product, which is located in a disused carpet shop in the south London borough of Croydon, includes old and new works by the artist including the iconic stab vest worn by the grime artist Stormzy at Glastonbury last year.
A poster explains that the piece came about “as a result of legal action” after a greeting cards company attempted to claim legal custody of the name “Banksy” and the artist was advised to sell a range of merchandise in order to retain his moniker. Today, the BBC reported that the card company called Banksy’s claim “entirely untrue” and that they did not “infringe his rights in any way” and pointed out that the company is not a “big corporation” but a very small business of three people. In an Instagram post in which the artist claimed the piece as his own, he explained that the “showroom is for display purposes only” and “probably best viewed at night.”
Playing on the double meaning of “gross,” Banksy’s store stocks various disturbing and unsavoury items, such as a rug made from the skin of Tony the Tiger, who has died of diabetes after eating too much Frosted Flakes cereal. A label, written in Banksy’s characteristically irreverent tone, explains that “the floor covering makes quite the conversation piece — especially if the conversation centres around the UK spending over £7.8 million a year on tooth extractions for the under 5s.”
Gross Domestic Product has already attracted visitors from across the UK. Not everyone is enamored with the piece, however. Some people have voiced their anger at the guerrilla artist’s decision to sell his works, with one commenting on the Instagram post: “Banksy shouldn’t have come in frames. Looks like it finally does. Thanks to the art market and the shitty dealers in it.”
The unveiling of Gross Domestic Product coincides with another of Banksy’s pieces selling for an unprecedentedly high price at auction. On Thursday “Devolved Parliament” (2009), which depicts the British Parliament filled with chimpanzees, sold at Sotheby’s for £9.9 million ($12 million), which is an extraordinary number considering the estimate for the large painting was £1,500,000–£2,000,000 ($1,900,000–$2,500,000). The sale dwarfs the artist’s previous auction record of £1.5 million ($1.9 million).
Banksy’s relationship with the art market just got a bit more complicated.