Last month, Banksy’s ‘Devolved Parliament’ sold for $12.1 million at Sotheby’s, making him one of the world’s most expensive street artists (without a commission to show for it). However, if your wallet boasts of anything upwards of €10, you can bring home a ‘Banksy’ too.
The infamous graffiti artist has made his work accessible (again) to the internet masses with his new venture: Gross Domestic Product. The e-commerce website launched last month, listing affordable replicates of the stab vest worn by British rapper Stormzy, “shredded” t-shirts featuring Girl With Balloon prints and a brick clutch bag that the website describes as “probably no less practical than the output of most haute couture fashion houses.”
However, the website came with a “Massive Disclaimer: You are advised that GDP may prove to be a disappointing retail experience.” Shoppers could only purchase one item, while having to prove that they weren’t robots and answer the question, ‘Why does art matter?’ The website’s terms and conditions state that the most impressive (or original) answers, judged by a stand-up comedian, will have their purchase shipped to them. Currently, the website has closed shop to deliberate applications from over 200 countries, but they promise that “there will be plenty more opportunities to purchase products in the coming months.”
Residents of Croydon in London were additionally privy to a popup that promoted the website. It had no doors, but its windows revealed assorted artworks arranged into a cosy living room display. Viewers could find a sprawling rug made with the skin of the Frosted Flakes tiger, a pillow that states ‘Life’s Too Short’ – ‘To Take Advice From a Cushion’ and welcome mats hand-stitched by women refugees from life jackets found on the beaches of Greece.
While no-one was admitted entry, a sign redirected people to their phones (onto the website) and explained why they had to open, in a statement. The store is in an ongoing trademark conflict with a greeting card manufacturer, Full Colour Black, for the legal custody of the artist’s name. As the trademark wasn’t technically being used by Banksy to sell his own work, ownership of the copyright was difficult for him to prove, which led to the greeting card company contesting the validity of Banksy’s name as a trademark. Ultimately, he was advised that “the best way to prevent this is to sell his own range of branded merchandise”.
With checks being addressed to everyone but the artist himself, it may have been about time for Banksy to capitalize on his artwork (for more than $60 a piece, outside Central Park). However, it does bring up the question: is he selling out? Banksy has been especially known to knock down the commodification of art, and has had no part in the unauthorized resale of his work by art collectors, who have even gone as far as to rip graffiti off of concrete walls to sell it.
But the devaluation of his own artwork by a couple million dollars may suggest that the shop is more than a business venture. The website also says: “The artist would like to make it clear that he continues to encourage the copying, borrowing and uncredited use of his imagery for amusement, activism and education purposes.” Thus, this may be another grand marketing gimmick, but it does stand by the artist’s credo of making art public.
The shop is closed for a while, but we’d keep watching the space in the coming months. It’s also soon to announce the opening of ‘BBay’ – ‘the approved used Banksy dealership,’ proving that the artist is taking the war against illegal resale into his own hands.