Banksy's First Unauthorized “Retrospective" Opens in London

Kissing Coppers stencilled with artist's name; signed and dated 26/FEB/05 on the stretcher acrylic and spraypaint stencil on canvas 126.8 by 102cm.; 50 by 40⅛in. This work is unique in its format. EXHIBITED Los Angeles, Barely Legal, 2006

Banksy, Kissing Coppers (2005)
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's

Talking to Vanity Fair about the decade he spent working with Banksy, dealer Steve Lazarides said: “it was an amazing ride and I wouldn't be here without it, but I don't necessarily miss it."

Now, he's diving back into their shared history headlong, curating a show for Sotheby's gallery space S|2, promoted as the “Unauthorized Retrospective." Featuring some works from Lazarides' personal collection, the show opens today and gathers 70 pieces, from the beginning of the street artist's career in Bristol in the mid-1990s, to 2009—the year after he and Lazarides went their separate ways.

Several of the works on display have never been shown in public before: a stencil version of the Kissing Coppers (originally bought on Ebay for £2,000), a portrait of a famished boy with a Burger King crown (Burger King), and a picture of HRH the Queen as a monkey (Monkey Queen, 2003), among others. Other highlights include Avon & Somerset (2000-2001), the canvas version of a stencil campaign prompted by the police's search for the street artist.

The show is testament to the radical changes undergone by street art over the last two decades. As Lazarides reminds prospective buyers in the exhibition catalogue, Banksy initially sought anonymity to escape the police. Now, street artists have become part of the art world in a way which would have seemed unthinkable less than ten years ago—despite Banksy himself remaining an elusive figure.

Kissing Coppers stencilled with artist's name; signed and dated 26/FEB/05 on the stretcher acrylic and spraypaint stencil on canvas 126.8 by 102cm.; 50 by 40⅛in. This work is unique in its format. EXHIBITED Los Angeles, Barely Legal, 2006

Banksy, Morons (Gold Frame) (2006)
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's

The show will no doubt pull in crowds: the artist's solo exhibition at the Bristol Museum in 2009 attracted tens of thousands of visitors. Even his more modest first, secondary market show at Andipa Gallery in 2009 saw record attendance: 25,000 people visited the gallery during its three week run.

Collectors are also likely to make the trip. The Banksy market has steadily recovered since its vertiginous dip after the 2008 crash and is on an upward trend.  According to artnet Analytics, the artist's average sale value at auction was $159,248 in 2013, not too far off its peak of $198,364 in 2008. Prices for the pieces on display at S|2 range from £4,000 ($6,700) to over £500,000 ($837,394). All are to be sold privately.

Banksy himself has made clear what he thinks of the market frenzy that has surrounded most of his career. In 2007, when his work first fetched six figures at auction, he published on his website a picture of people bidding for a text piece which said: “I can't believe you morons actually buy this shit." A sepia screenprint version of the piece is to be included in the show.