This weekend, the Sincura Group hosted an unauthorized auction of several iconic works from the reclusive—and still anonymous—street artist Banksy. Each of the pieces were removed from the walls of real buildings and put up for sale, with international bidders willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to own an actual Banksy. Obviously, Banksy himself was not pleased with the “Stealing Banksy?” auction, releasing a somewhat tongue-in-cheek statement on his website saying, “This show has got nothing to do with me, and I think it’s disgusting people are allowed to go around displaying art on walls without getting permission.”
Since his unique brand of street art, stencil paintings and graffiti first started appearing in the early ’90s, the mysterious artist has become a media sensation for his stinging political and social commentary. And art collectors—even ones who purchase pieces in unauthorized auctions—have paid fortunes for the guerrilla work of the world’s most notorious street artist.
Here’s our look at Banksy’s 10 most powerful works of social commentary that have helped make him into a one of culture’s most iconic—and controversial—figures.
10. Spray Art
In a work of New York performance art meant to demonstrate the subjective value of art, Banksy actually sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of prints on the sidewalk alongside venders to unsuspecting customers. All for a whopping $420.
9. Mobile Lovers
8. The London Games Series
In the lead up to the London Olympics, Banksy created a series of images—like this one of a child sweat shop worker churning out British flag merchandise—that criticized the way the officials overlooked global issues in light of the Games.
7. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Banksy’s critically acclaimed documentary about the rise of street art and the career of fellow artist Thierry Guetta may have just been a work of performance art itself. Since its release there’s been speculation that the documentary was actually a carefully scripted hoax that provided commentary on the world of art, consumerism and celebrity.
6. The Guantanamo Bay Disney Stunt
When Banksy covertly erected a life-sized dummy resembling a Guantanamo Bay prisoner inside a Disney Land attraction, it did more than just get people’s attention. The stunt caused Disney officials to temporarily shut down parts of the park and briefly detain a Banksy accomplice.
5. I Remember When This Was Trees
4. Cardinal Sin
Created in 2011, in the wake of the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandal, Cardinal Sin depicts the traditional bust of a priest—with his face disguised by pixels in the same way the media hid the young victims’ identity in their coverage of the case.
3. Crazy Horse
In one of his more controversial pieces as part of the New York “Better Out Than In” tour, Banksy incorporated actual audio from the Wikileaks files that recounted an Iraq airstrike that resulted in civilian causalities. Combined with an image of night vision goggle-wearing horses and crosshairs affixed on targets below, the work remains one of his most haunting pieces.
2. Flower Thrower
Banksy’s iconic ode to nonviolence remains one of the images most closely associated with the reclusive artist.
1. Flying Balloons Girl
Created in 2005, the image of a little girl with balloons attempting to float over the West Bank barrier wall that separates the Palestinian territories from Israel has become one of Banksy’s most iconic stencil works.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.