Most people familiar with the artist Banksy. He (or she. I will use ‘he/his’ moving forward) is known for not being known. And he is also known for his distinctive modern art that ‘pops up’ in unique spots all around the world. With the nature of Banksy’s art being so public and displayed in such public spaces, it is really interesting how he (or she) goes about distributing ‘Certificates of Authenticity’ to verify that the person who possess his art acquired it legitimately.
Banksy has established a virtual portal to authenticate whether specific works of his are both genuine and genuinely obtained — and, as the guy trying to get a painting valued admits, he’d visited the site and been told that the painting could not be validated because it was not obtained legally.
Dubbed Pest Control, the service offers an easy-to-use interface to determine a particular work’s validity. Elsewhere on Pest Control’s site, they offer a more extensive explanation of what they do — namely, issue certificates of authenticity.
As for what that means, well — here’s what Pest Control themselves have to say: “The certificate of authenticity (COA) means you can buy, sell or insure a piece of art knowing it’s legitimate and the wheels won’t fall off,” they write. “Pest Control is the only source of COA’s for Banksy. We issue them for paintings, prints, sculptures and other attempts at creativity. We don’t issue them for things like stickers, posters, defaced currency or anything which wasn’t originally intended as a ‘work of art’.”
Pest Control also offers a “Keeping It Real” service, which lets prospective buyers of a work by Banksy confirm that the work is, in fact, legitimate.
This situation came into full relief recently as someone who had ‘acquired’ an Banksy in Brighton UK had brought the piece onto Antiques Roadshow to get it appraised, only to be taken to the woodshed by the host, who chastised the person for not providing the ‘Certificate of Authenticity’.
I am a fan of Banksy’s work because of the way his art communicates a clear, many times withering, message about a topic, movement or circumstance that people need to pay attention to. What brings this home is not only the art itself, but the surface in which the art is painted and/or the environment surrounding the art. One of my favorite pieces that he has done was a mural on the corner of a garage in Port Talbot, Wales, UK. On one wall of the corner, it depicts a child in winter clothes with his arms outstretch and mouth open, seeming to be catching snowflakes with his tongue. If you look on the wall on the other side of the corner, you see that it is a burning garbage bin that is producing the flakes. The message he was sending had to do with the fact that Port Talbot is the home of one of the largest steel mills in the UK that produces immense pollution in and around that area. The accompanying video that he published on his Instagram account really brings the message home.
Update: Maybe my observation that Banksy may be a woman wasn’t too far off! From an article on Bloomberg from 2014:
But what Banksy Does New York makes plain is that the artist known as Banksy is someone with a background in the art world. That someone is working with a committee of people to execute works that range in scale from simple stencil graffiti to elaborate theatrical conceits. The documentary shows that Banksy has a different understanding of the street than the artists, street-writers, and art dealers who steal Banksy’s shine by “spot-jocking” or straight-up pilfering her work—swagger-jackers who are invariably men in Banksy Does New York. All of which serves as evidence against the flimsy theory that Banksy is a man.