The anti-artist artist
A Kiwi is one of the world’s biggest collectors of works by secretive street artist Banksy, Dani McDonald writes.
Eric Perlman’s obsession with Banksy started 12 years ago. He actually missed out on seeing the anonymous graffiti artist’s first major exhibition in his hometown of Los Angeles in 2006.
The free exhibition was called Barely Legal and inside was a 38-year-old female Indian elephant covered in red non-toxic paint. She matched the wallpaper and made a political statement.
The story hit the headlines and set Perlman on the hunt for any Banksy prints he could lay his hands on.
It was difficult, given Banksy’s prints were mostly only sold in the UK at the time. But his perserverance paid off and today, Perlman, a Kiwi-based 49-year-old entrepreneur, is one of the biggest collectors of Banksy works, with a collection of 30 prints and originals.
‘‘I just started buying prints second hand from people who had already bought them and obviously paying more than when they were released,’’ he said.
‘‘I guess that’s how it started – I was kind of a little bit obsessed because it was amazing to be watching what he was doing, basically selling prints for not really that much, not increasing his prices and just out there doing all these amazing works anonymously. He just really had a voice and a message behind everything that he was doing.’’
Four of Perlman’s collection (three originals and one print) feature in The Art of Banksy exhibition at Auckland’s Aotea Centre this month.
The exhibition, curated by the artist’s former manager Steve Lazarides, showcases 80 original pieces and includes the famous painting of the girl with the red balloon, known as Girl and Balloon, and the controversial work Laugh Now, depicting a monkey with a sign around its neck that reads, ‘‘Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge’’.
Perlman’s favourite print, well, one of many favourites – Rude Copper – is also expected at the show. The 2002 work was thought to be the first print that Banksy sold commercially.
It’s said that Banksy and Lazarides were selling the prints out of the boot of their car and at shared exhibitions with other artists.
Banksy hand-sprayed a couple of them and would usually leave them unsigned.
At an exhibition in Germany, someone asked the gallery owner for theirs to be signed, and Banksy obliged. ‘‘It was signed in a big black fat marker and it’s really the only one that’s hand sprayed and signed like that. It ended up getting the certificate of authenticity from his gallery, so that’s just a really epic piece,’’ Perlman says enthusiastically.
Perlman has never met the controversial street artist. Not that he’s aware of, anyway. He’s been to a few of Banksy’s events, such as the opening of the Walled Off Hotel, the Banksy-owned establishment on Israel’s West Bank described by the Guardian as ‘‘hotel, museum, protest and gallery all in one’’.
‘‘That was one of the most amazing trips of my life and I’ve travelled a lot of places,’’ Perlman said. ‘‘It is just a juxtaposition. I always tell people, if you’re familiar with Banksy’s work, he does these corrupted oils where there will be a landscape and he’ll make something that obviously doesn’t fit there and I felt like the Walled Off Hotel was living in one of those corrupted oils.
‘‘He has what looks like an opulent hotel, but 20 feet away is this ominous wall with barbed wire and a gun tower and you hear shots and tear gas being fired in a repressed society. ‘‘Israel has always been a place I’ve wanted to visit; Palestine I probably would never in a million years have gone [to] just because of the stigma of it – being dangerous and not a friendly place, but in him having it there it just forced me to do it.’’
Perlman went on to explore the nearby refugee camp, Camp Aida.
‘‘It was an amazing experience, it was very powerful, eye-opening. I saw both sides. I was in Israel for a week and Palestine for five days and found it unbelievably educational. I have no doubt why he put it there.’’
Perlman also understands Banksy’s logic behind the attraction he built in the faded British seaside resort of Westonsuper-Mare.
‘‘With Dismaland it was bringing people to one of his childhood towns [where] they get no business, they get no visitors, there are some people who go for summer there but [the exhibition] just turned that place upside down. All the businesses were ecstatic, they were doing really well. All the bed and breakfasts were sold out, it was crazy,’’ he said.
Perlman won’t reveal the value of his works. But Banksy’s most expensive work, Keep it Spotless, reportedly sold for NZ$1.04 million in 2008 at Sotheby’s charity auction in New York.
And the market for Banksy work is only growing. Demand has far outstripped supply since Banksy stopped selling prints in 2010.
Perlman believes 90 per cent of
Eric Perlman in Jerusalem, on his trip to the Walled Off Hotel earlier this year.
Banksy’s Girl and Balloon will feature in The Art of Banksy at Auckland’s Aotea Centre this month.