Andy Warhol accomplished many things in his lifetime. He brought pop sensibilities to high art in a way unseen before his arrival. He made movies that made people go to the art gallery. He even cultivated the career of one Lou Reed, one of New York’s most beloved musicians. But one thing that Warhol did, intentionally or not, was change what people consider art, and how much they’re willing to pay for it. Consider it: Warhol made an entire series of paintings which are essentially copies of Campbell’s soup cans, one of the most common items in the entire world. These paintings have sold for millions of dollars. They have become iconic pieces and owning one would be like owning a piece of American history.
In 2013, Banksy seemed to accomplish the exact opposite: taking something worth millions and selling it for pennies. A humble art shop was set up in New York’s Central Park when Banksy was doing a high profile yet very secretive tour of the city. It was full of Banksy originals and prints, all for sixty dollars. There were three signs: one said “Spray Art,” another the price, and a third simply stating “This is not a photo opportunity.” Run by an older man in sunglasses and a hat, the store was only open for a single day and sold a total of eight pieces for a grand total of $420. Half of the sales came from a man from Chicago who “just needed something for the walls” of his new apartment. One lady bought two pieces for her grandchildren, managing to haggle a 50% discount from the shopkeeper.
Banksy’s work has always, in some way or another, a commentary on the economic systems surrounding art. He became famous for his stencils, freely given, on the streets of England and, later when he decided to have his Central Park art sale, New York. His Dismaland attraction charged an entry fee, but it was nominal and the uninterested guards probably wouldn’t have stopped you. But the way his work becomes part of economics is interesting as well: a single mom who awoke to discover Banksy had painted a piece on the side of her house ended up selling the section of wall for five figures, helping her climb out of debt and start anew. And even his Central Park art show would be a chance for someone to make an insane profit: sixty dollar pieces that are easily worth thousands.
Banksy has never been shy about discussing economics and art, whether it’s in his street art pieces or efforts like “Exit Through Gift Shop” or this pop-up shop in Central Park. His approach says something about the importance of access when it comes to art and artistic expression. While much of today’s art sits in galleries, exclusive events, and parties for the social elite, Banksy and other street artists continue to make efforts to provide art for everyone. All it takes is a stroll outside.