Is a virtual bit of Banksy worth anything?

Banksy artwork of man throwing flowers
(Image credit: Future)

Banksy, the renowned and still anonymous, graffiti artist who often creates art in public areas or on public utilities, is entering the Non-Fungible Token (NFT) space, or at least a verified piece of his art is.

The work in question: “Love is in the Air,” which depicts a bomb-thrower hurling a bouquet of flowers, is being chopped up into 10,000 pieces, with each one then sold as an NFT for roughly $1,500 apiece.

Banksy is well-known for destroying his own art. In 2018, a Banksy sold at auction for $1.4 million, and then, moments after the auctioneer’s gavel slammed down onto wood, the painting literally self-destructed by running through a shredder hidden in the frame.

That was so Banksy. I’m not so sure this new effort is.

Not an ink stroke or lofted flower in “Love is in the Air’ will be harmed in this NFT sale. Instead, according to The New York Times, a former auction executive and, naturally, some cryptocurrency bros ... ahem … execs, will digitally slice up the work into thousands of pieces. As with other NFT works, each section will get its own immutable spot on the blockchain.

The result is, you don’t own a Banksy or even a physical piece of one, but you can show your friends the digital bit of it living inside your NFT or crypto wallet.

I guess that’s something.

Banksy is, in some ways, like a human form of NFT. He’s clearly unique but completely ungraspable. No one knows who he (or she or them) is, what he looks like, or how, exactly, Banksy works.

Banksymania grips the nation

Like NFTs, Banksy drives a kind of mania. Because his work often appears out of the blue in public settings and is not that difficult to copy, people think they’re seeing Banksy works all over the place.

A few weeks ago, an impromptu art sale of what appeared to be fresh Banksy works appeared in a New York City subway. Multiple people reported it and one woman on TikTok was so enthralled that she left the subway and (I guess bought another fare) just to return and buy some of the art from a kind, sweatshirt-hooded figure (Banksy?!!).

Her report—spread out over a handful of TikTok videos—mirrored those of others and then, as you will in these situations, she dove down the rabbit hole of provenance, trying to discern if what she bought was, in fact, a real Banksy.

Long story short, it was not.

Now let’s go back to NFT-izing of Banksy’s “Love is in the Air.” There’s no indication that Banksy is in on this scheme. Those turning it into an NFT originally bought it for $12.9 million. They hope to, I assume, make—ahem—bank through the sale of 10,000 $1,500 pieces.

One assumes that Banksy didn’t have the forethought to program any kind of image-capture-corrupting information in the original art to prevent this kind of crypto-commerce play, but with Banksy one can never be sure.

I have nothing against enterprising entrepreneurship, even in the slightly off-kilter crypto space, but these efforts to convince people they own a piece of the real thing even when they really don’t worries me. They sound like snake oil and undercut the true value of the blockchain and NFTs, which I believe are transforming the memorabilia and collectible space.

Selling virtual (or digital) pieces of a singular piece of art flies in the face of the artist’s original intention, which, if I might speak for Banksy, is to tell a story and elicit an emotion with a single image.

Not 10,000 pieces that you can reassemble if you have enough dough.

Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.