15th March 2013
It can’t be the judicious use of brushwork or colour - like most of Banksy’s work, Slave Labour is a spray-painted stencil and largely monochrome. It’s well executed, certainly (but as Dr Johnson might have commented that’s not so much the point as that it’s been executed at all). What really adds all those zeroes to the valuation is the (pseudonymous) identity of the artist.
It’d be hard to pin-down exactly what is going on, but something has clearly happened to turn a piece of [probable] criminal damage into world-class art and news. For want of a better label, let’s call that something “brand Banksy”. Like all good brands, it adds a “je ne sais quoi” to the ordinary and makes it special. You can imagine that if Damien Hirst were to dabble in street-art, we might be in similar territory, but if Brand Soup were to try anything similar - no matter how similar - the result would not be worth more than a passing mention.
This isn’t new: brands have been around as long as human commerce, differentiating and distinguishing goods and services and making some more valuable than others. Even in the art world, Marcel Duchamp got there first - his autographed urinal Fountain has since become “the most influential artwork of the 20th century” merely because of the addition of Duchamp’s signature and the consequent connection with his fame/infamy (delete as applicable).
While we can’t condone his attitude to other people’s property, we at BrandSoup have a sneaking admiration for Banksy and his cheeky and irreverent take on modern culture and politics. Mind you, we’re still smarting from reading his opinion that “Copyright is for losers”. We sincerely hope he is less cavalier about trade mark rights!