Banksy’s worldwide fame has transformed his artwork from what some called, “acts of vandalism” to sought-after high art pieces, which has been termed, “The Banksy Effect.” Banksy is the subject of the HBO documentary, Banksy Does New York, which chronicles his October 2013, month long New York City residency, where Banksy took to the streets and anonymously created a new piece of street art each day.
Stephan Keszler sells Banksy’s street art and was featured in the HBO documentary, Banksy Does New York. I met with Keszler at his Keszler Gallery in South Hampton, NY.
“The only guy selling original Banksy’s in my opinion is me.”
Michael Reiss: Why is Banksy an important artist?
Stephan Keszler: I think he’s an important artist because what he does is very smart very unique and very British and very witty. The other thing is I think altogether he’s a Smart Genius. A PR guy. So the whole story around him is something very unique and this makes him a smart and good artist in my opinion.
MR: What do you think of Banksy’s choice to remain anonymous?
SK: It’s his decision. But this is part of what I said before this is part of his marketing and smartness. He’s very bright and very smart.
MR: How much of Banksy’s art have you sold in the gallery?
SK: I’ve sold 15 major Banksy Street works from $75,000 to 1.3 million dollars. I think nobody else ever did this.
“I’m the villain in this movie.”
MR: Do you have any competitors selling Banksy street art?
SK: No, I’m a lonesome cowboy. This is what I like.
MR: Have you ever been in contact with Banksy or anyone from his camp?
SK: I could say yes, but it is not true.
MR: How did you get started selling Banksy’s art, and how do you go about acquiring it?
SK: I got offered Banksy prints for my gallery in Southampton. I showed them at my gallery and it was a huge success and I saw his fans and his new followers which I never saw before. I saw his work and I started to fall in love with it. And then the next step was that I got contacted from Bethlehem to acquire the major works, Stop and Search and the Wet Dog. So we did this and then one came after the other. I got officially contacted by Pest Control and they condemned my first Banksy show with original artwork, which was kind of acknowledgement for me that what I do is right. Then I become part of his marketing strategy, the good guy Banksy, the bad guy me. So it’s a very good thing.
MR: What were the most difficult Banksy works to acquire?
SK: The work from Palestine was hard to get it out because of the authorities because there’s no open border and so this was very difficult. The rest is quite easy, people call you from London, people call you from New York, they have a building. I got a few calls every day, “we have a Banksy,” from his New York tour. So I looked at them and some we came to an agreement.
MR: So people come to you.
SK: Yes. Because they want to make money with it.
MR: Tell me about Banksy’s New York residency.
SK: The New York residency pieces are a little less quality than the London works. You know he’s from England and making 30 pieces in one month, it’s a little bit inflationary. For collectors, not for me. I think half of the works had been destroyed, so there were 15 available, out of the 15 we had 5, and we sold two. Personally, I like the works the most from England because this is where he comes from. These are his roots. In the end they all sell though. It could take two or three or four years, which is fine for us. One thing for sure is that Banksy attracts a lot of attention, and love, and braveness, to the people. We have people coming every day, “oh Banksy, Banksy, Banksy.” But between liking Banksy and paying $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 without knowing who he is, without a certificate, is a different story.
MR: How do you respond to people like former Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who said, “running up to somebody’s property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art.”
SK: He is right.
MR: You were featured in the HBO documentary, Banksy Does New York. As I’m sure you’re aware, there are people in the art world that believe that selling a public art is not ethical. Many compare it to stealing. What do you say to people who claim you’re selling Banksy’s stolen art?
SK: I think they are wrong. Because legally the owner of the property is the owner. Second of all, like Mayor Bloomberg said, it’s vandalism, and third, without us, 90% of the Banksy’s would be destroyed. I think what we do, and I think Banksy agrees with it, is good. The works are salvaged and saved. Art Miami, for example, works from Bethlehem, from London, from New York, from all kinds of spaces in the world, the audience would never see so many works at one space like at art Miami show. Plus, art doesn’t come flying out of the wall. It’s a restoration process, a lot of money. But I’m not doing this only for the money I do this because I like the work and I want to do something good. And to all these people, they are jealous that they cannot do what I do.
MR: So when they say you’re the villain, you say?
SK: Very cool, because like Hitchcock said, every good movie has to have a villain. And I’m the villain in this movie.
MR: What would you say to Banksy if you met him?
SK: I would say look make it easier for me. Put the work on my wall, make some canvases, and I’ll sell them for you at the best price you can believe.
MR: We’re also featuring a wonderfully curated Banksy exhibit in Amsterdam, This is Banksy.
SK: But they don’t have the original works, that’s different. I think I sell the real Banksy’s because he’s a street artist. I’m the only one who’s selling Banksy street art and Banksy considered himself a street artist. So the only guy selling original Banksy’s in my opinion is me.
MR: Thank you for sharing with the Arts Management audience, Stephan.
SK: You’re quite welcome.
Please let us know what you think. Is art on public property, art? Is it ethical to sell street art? What is art?