Banksy and social media: The perfect match?

Banksy, the world-famous street artist who is considered the scarlet pimpernel of the art world almost had his identity sold in an auction on ebay last week. Bidding reached a dollar short of US$1-million before the attempt to unmask the art crusader was thwarted. But many have been left wondering if this was yet another of Banksy’s elaborate pranks, or whether Web 2.0 came within a hair’s breadth of revealing his identity?

The saga began when a seller called ‘jaybuysthings’ made the offer, with a 100% guarantee that the identity was real, after claiming that he had used tax records to match the artist with the prices his art work fetches.

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Thirty eight bids were made to acquire this intangible ‘proof’ of Banksy’s real identity. But before the sale could be concluded, the item (*260720844294) listed on ebay was removed, because it was classified as “intangible”.

The seller shot back with another item, (*130476675195) , and a note which said “If you win this auction I will mail you a piece of paper revealing the true identity of ‘Banksy’. I have uncovered his identity by matching up the prices of his sold pieces to corresponding tax records. I will reveal no more details. The winner of this auction is the only person I will ever share this information with. The piece of paper will say his name, nothing more. Selling the second copy. Ebay previously ended this auction because I was selling something that was not “tangible”. It is now tangible.”

Bidding on the piece of paper reached $10 100 before ebay again removed it.

This was followed by a flurry of online auction activity as others got wind of the sale. Banksy’s ‘real identity’ was also offered by Godzillalaughs who posted a picture of an orange piece of paper with the name “Robin Gunningham” written in purple ink (Gunningham has often been cited as Banksy’s real identity). This offer was followed by ones from Yogibara, electricf33, sunsurfer045 and rkee888 who also joined the sellers ranks on eBay, before the auction site removed all the listings.

Social media has become a perfect playground for Banksy as he spreads his political message and vision across the world while protecting his identity. He has a YouTube Channel where he uploads videos, and is a prolific tweeter through @banksyart2, although questions still remain as to whether this is the real Banksy. But at first glance, it seems that social media has filled a gap, allowing Banksy to interact with his followers on his own terms and keeping his distance.

On Twitter, the conversations about the auction drama were heated. However most of the tweets were deleted in the dead of night. As the bidding reached around US$600 000, @banksyart2 tweeted “As it states I’m my bio.. I am not banksy”. When asked if the person he sold his ID to would reveal it to the world, he tweeted “ if I would sell my id @shelleyelk just having a bit of fun love. Nobody cares who I am.”

In @banksyart2’s timeline someone tweeted a plan to mess up the ID auction by making up fake Banksy ID’s to sell on ebay – to which @banksyart2 replied ‘it may have already been done.’

The artist also tweeted “I’m putting my bid in” and “I think we should all play ‘Russian roulette’ with the Banksy ID bid.. God help the winner” and “Personally I think this is a genius plot to raise money for charity.”

Not everyone wanted to know his identity. Some tweeted their preference for not knowing his identity, while others said they knew who he was. One tweeter piqued @banksyart2’s interest by offering him toffo while other offers ranged from 50p, 75p, menthol cigarettes, to an oatcake and turnip shaped like a knob.

Banksy walks a tightrope between political activism, guerrilla art and mainstream success. A pharmacy that was hit by Banksy, in 2008 saw a substantial increased in value. The pharmacist seemed quite amenable to the wall being sold and removed “if it was done carefully”. A hotel in Torquay that saw a Banksy mural appear overnight now has an art work that could fetch upwards of US$200 000. In his own words, Banksy says “Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”

In 2010, Banksy released a movie entitled “Exit through the gift shop” a movie which is up for a BAFTA award, Banksy, hooded, and with a digitally altered voice says Graffiti or street art is ‘legally a grey area’. Tags and signatures link street artists to their work, but police won’t make the connection unless they catch artists in the act. The movie is up for a BAFTA award for outstanding debut.

In October, the artist’s work appeared in the opening scene of the iconic TV series, The Simpsons, where he storyboarded a scene that took the classic intro into a whole new realm.

To classify Banksy as a graffiti or street artist is simplistic.

Banksy is a renegade who’s identity in the streets and on social media platforms crosses into the realm of performance and conceptual art. He is adamant that his work is not about the hype, money, or fame, but the message…so why can’t we accept his quest for anonymity and let him get on with his work?

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