Street Art

Opinion: What an Auction Means to the Artists

October 29, 2012

Do Sales Equal Success?

By Trina Calderon


Tonight, October 29, 2012, Bonhams is hosting the first ever Los Angeles Urban Art auction. The artwork is sourced from owners who go into a consignment agreement with Bonhams. Once the piece is auctioned off, Bonhams and the previous owner share the profit. Auctions have been a part of the overall art market for a long time and some feel they are just a necessary aspect of the business. Others are not too keen, and one could see why -- the artist does not see one dime of the sale, often the work is marked up so high that it impacts their market prices, and sometimes the work acquired isn't something the artist intends for public auction.


For example, American artist Revok has a diptych in this auction that was from a live painting event and the artwork is unfinished. He contacted Bonhams and asked them to pull the work from the auction, and even offered to replace it, but they denied his offer. Untitled (Diptych) that is being auctioned off tonight is a poor representation of his talent. The artwork is estimated to sell at $5000 - $7000.


When Sotheby's auctioned off several of UK artist Banksy's artwork at ridiculously high prices in 2007, he responded by posting an image of an auction house scene showing people bidding on an artwork that said "I Can't Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit." Fast forward five years later and his feelings are not any different. Banksy's artwork is well known for his humanity, sense of humor, and critical comment on capitalism and imperialism. To be bought and sold in an inflated auction environment is not his idea of success. The auction here in Los Angeles actually even uses his Gangsta Rat and Paparazzi Rat images in promotions for the event.


I reached out to Pest Control for their take on the Los Angeles auction…


"I would like to make clear that Banksy is not involved with auction house sales of his work and these companies use my clients imagery without prior consent or approval."


- Lawyer for Banksy


"I've always wanted to make art that is free and accessible, so for me commercial success is kind of a mark of failure. It feels like the more expensive my pictures become, the less they're worth."


- Banksy



UK artist Nick Walker has also suffered from Bonhams auctions. "It's a complete double-edged sword," he told me. In 2008, his Moony Lisa sold for £54,000 (approx. $86,500). This changed the market on his artwork considerably and he was "looked upon as a cash cow from there on." He explained that when he prices his artwork he does it with a consideration for the buyer, giving them a little room and making it stable and reasonable. Of course, for some buyers art is an investment and he can honor that, but there needs to be a secure way of doing it. When an artwork becomes part of a large public auction, it's an embarrassment because they estimate the sales price so high. "You're like a naked kid in a playground. 'What's gonna happen with this one?'...It's an unrealistic jump that has speculators going crazy, people buying with their credit cards, and everybody can't even afford it in the first place."


Nick's 21st Century Presidents, a 1/1 stenciled spray-paint on canvas artwork, is estimated at $30,000 - $50,000 in the auction tonight. "It's not going to reach that -- that's too much money. Unless someone has more money than sense."