A Look into Banksy’s Rising Popularity in the Art Market that He Despises So Much

Banksy unveiled his new artwork titled Scar of Bethlehem at The Walled Off Hotel in December. The installation features a modified nativity scene with Joseph and Mary kneeling beside baby Jesus against a concert wall that is pierced by a mortar shell, resembling a guiding star. The artwork is designed to make people think about how Palestinians live in Bethlehem.

Banksy’s Scar of Bethlehem

A closer look at Banksy’s Scar of Bethlehem

A closer look at Banksy’s Scar of Bethlehem

The Walled Off Hotel

Besides Banksy’s latest work in Palestine, some of his artworks are currently on display in an exhibition in Hong Kong titled Banksy: Genius or Vandal?, co-organised by Art Projectors and Last Bullet Production. The exhibition is dubbed by the organiser ‘The First Major Exhibition of Banksy Comes to Hong Kong’.

The show features more than 70 works, sculptures, installations, videos and photographs from private international collections. They are being shown in Hong Kong for the first time. Like most previous shows of Banksy’s work, this one is also unauthorised by the artist himself. In fact, Banksy expressed angry over authorised exhibitions on different occasions.

Artworks featured in Banksy: Genius or Vandal?

In 2018, Banksy posted on Instagram a screenshot of an online chat in response to an exhibition showcasing Banksy’s graffiti works in Moscow. “You know it’s got nothing to do with me right? I don’t charge people to see my art unless there’s a fairground wheel,” Banksy wrote in the online chat. 


A screenshot from Banksy’s online chat

Banksy’s distaste for the contemporary art market and capitalism is an recurring theme in his artwork. Ironically, the British artist has been rising in popularity in the art market. The most notable event is probably the sale of his self-shredding painting at Sotheby’s auction in London. Some question whether the whole incident was just a collaborative work between Banksy and Sotheby’s as a PR stunt to make Banksy artworks more valuable in the market. 

So what’s Banksy’s thought on his artwork becoming more a highly sought-after collectable? This October, Banksy posted on his Instagram account a quote from art critic Robert Hughes, “But the price of a work of art is now part of its function, its new job is to sit on the wall and get more expensive. Instead of being the common property of humankind the way a book is, art becomes the particular property of somebody who can afford it.”

Social issue is one major topic covered in Banksy’s artworks. For example, last December, he shared on his social media showing a man on a bench next to the reindeers that he painted in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. It captures the plight of the homeless in the UK and highlights the issue of homelessness. Will street art still serve that same purpose if it is removed from its original place and put in a showroom instead?

The pop-up shop launched by Banksy in Croydon is another installation to critque global's society major issues

Some people think street art, as a form of rebellion, is about challenging its surrounding environment. And one defining trait of street art is that it is created in a public area without the permission of the owner. As the development of street art is colliding with the art market, we see street art being sold at auctions or put in a frame to be displayed in a showroom. One can’t help but wonder, "Is it still street art?’