Graffiti artist Banksy may be forced to reveal identity in new lawsuit

A mural of Banksy's Monkey Queen hanging in the Milano Centrale main railway station in Milan on December 02, 2021.
A mural of Banksy's Monkey Queen hanging in the Milano Centrale main railway station in Milan on December 02, 2021. Photo credit: Miguel Medina / Getty Images

Two art collectors are going after popular graffiti artist Banksy over his refusal to confirm whether an iconic piece is authentic.   

Banksy's identity has long been a mystery and the artist is known for his politically charged stencil-based pieces which can sell for staggering amounts.   

In 2021, a Banksy piece was sold for almost NZ$1.5 million in Auckland, breaking records in New Zealand's art market.   

Now two art collectors, Nicky Katz and Ray Howse, are suing the artist's company, Pest Control, after they allege it has failed to confirm the authenticity of a Monkey Queen print. 

If the suit makes it to court, Banksy could be forced to reveal his full real name.  

Katz and Howse told the Guardian they have tried to get their print authenticated for over three years with no success.   

The print shows the late Queen Elizabeth depicted as a monkey with a crown and pearl necklace. 

The art collectors have pointed to Pest Control's website which states it will issue a certificate of authenticity for "paintings, prints, sculptures and other attempts at creativity".  

The company likens the certificate to a vehicle Warrant of Fitness for the art world. 

"We're in no man's land, and it's a lot of money. They claim to be the official validators of this artist's work, but this has been going on for three years," Katz told The Guardian. 

The collectors purchased the print in 2020 from the estate of a deceased established Banksy collector, but they said the piece had no accompanying paperwork detailing its history.   

The collectors paid NZ$62,000 for the piece and believe, if it's genuine, it could be worth between NZ$114,000 and NZ$145,000.  

The controversy surrounding the piece may even increase its value.   

In 2018, Banksy remotely shredded his artwork Girl with a Balloon while it was at auction, a surprising move that pushed the piece's value to over NZ$38 million. 

John Brandler, a leading specialist who deals in graffiti artists, told The Guardian that requiring work to be certified by Banksy's company amounts to "pure market manipulation because Banksy will only certify works that he wants particular individuals to have".  

Katz is a London-based art collector, who already owns several Banksy works, as well as a quarry.   

Banksy's real identity has been the topic of much speculation over the years, with Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja, Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz and Neil Buchanan, the former host of TV's Art Attack, all possibilities at various times.   

In a 2003 interview with the BBC, which recently resurfaced, Banksy was asked whether his real name is Robert Banks, to which he replied: "It's Robbie".  

Pest Control told The Guardian: "Our authentication process is robust and thorough and sometimes protracted. We have issued many thousands of certificates of authenticity."