Supply & Demand: Who Is To Blame For The Fake Banksy?

“Become good at cheating and you never need to become good at anything else.” —Banksy

What is the answer to ninety-nine out of a hundred questions? Money. Or so the saying goes. Berlin Art Week is a time during which millions of Euros are silently floating around within the pockets of art collectors who swarm to Berlin for this four-day art extravaganza. There’s money to be made – and spent – from this billion-dollar market and this is your chance: sell, sell, sell; the pressure is on. It’s a jungle out there where survival is granted to the fittest and reputations are at stake: Who are the main players this year? Which gallery will walk out with the highest honors (profits)? With so much attention for the spotlight, how can one compete? Gallerists, you know the answer. Collectors, you know the answer. Artists, you too know the answer: Buzz.

One of the exhibitors at this year’s Preview Berlin Art Fair that undeniably carried the most buzz was booth No. 34, G & G Fine Art Miami/Berlin. And understandably so: its stable held artwork by one of the most – if not the most ­– famous street artist in recent years. Banksy. Artparasites was given the first exclusive interview with Pablo Gehr, representative of G & G, just days before the official opening of the fair—Oh yes, we were hungry for the buzz too (after all, it’s what mosquitoes do). Soon after our story went public, new developments arose which led us to uncover an inconvenient truth: the alleged Banksy was, in fact, a forgery. Soon, every blaming finger in the room pointed towards one man: Gehr. And, why not? After all, the artworks he displays are his responsibility; the stories about the provenance of the Banksy came from his own mouth; and it was he who first shared with Artparasites what none of the exhibition programs had published: that he had “been able to gain probably the most famous street artist for the art fair, whose name cannot be published.” Whether that statement was the first red flag, it did not matter; Pablo had something we mutually wanted: the B word. Buzz.

The Art Of Making Buzzness 

Let’s not fool ourselves: buzz equals money, plain and simple. Collect enough buzz (attention, publicity, fame) and the cash rolls in. Yet, as the smoke clears from this fiasco, the more that I think about answering the question “Why?” the more elusive the answer becomes. The easiest answer – money – might sound like a reason, but what’s the cause? What is it about the art market (or any other market) that drives a person, like Gehr, to seek the spotlight on a faulty premise? Granted, his alleged Banksy pieces were not up for sale, yet the benefits of the buzz received are undeniable. But perhaps more to the core: what is the nature of a structure that pushes/tempts anyone to these lengths? Not to relinquish any wrongdoing on his behalf, but it seems that there is not only one person to blame for this, but a structure that we’ve all created; one that we’re all a part of: from gallerists, to collectors, to artists, to the general public and yes, to us media outlets as well. What is this will to sensationalism? Are we that bored with our everyday lives that the prohibited becomes tempting simply because it’s entertaining? Are we that desperate? And where does the art fit in all of this? —You know, that thing we are supposed to be showcasing, admiring and reflecting from. 

Looking for the buzz: from alleged Banksy installation at Preview Berlin Art Fair. Photo: Chris Phillips

As the smoke continues to clear, there are more questions than answers— questions that not only Pablo Gehr will need to answer, but also all of us that are involved in this art market supply chain: from the emerging artists who are so earnestly seeking a chance at the spotlight to the frivolous gallerists that have to sustain a four-day long smile while the fair is underway to the one-must-please-at-all-costs collectors with pockets full of promises to media outlets, like Artparasites, hunting for the next big story to readers like you, who feed on this entertainment. We’ve created a system that rewards sensationalism and caters to the buzz. Don’t we all have a little bit of blame for this scenario? —Now if you'll excuse me, I just heard about new development on a hot story; we'll keep you updated.

Article by Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra, Editor in Chief of Artparasites