On Thursday, Spike, an artwork attributed to the elusive street artist Banksy, is scheduled to be sold on the auction platform ValuArt in the form of an NFT, but it’s unclear whether the artist has any knowledge that the non-fungible token was created in the first place. If indeed the Spike NFT is unauthorized, the artist could have grounds to file a lawsuit; it also remains unclear how operatic tenor Vittorio Grigolo, the owner of Banksy’s original work, obtained it in the first place. Grigolo is one of the cofounders of ValuArt, and the platform is selling the Banksy NFT as part of its first auction.
Spike consists of a chunk of the barrier wall that divides Israel and Palestine; the ValuArt auction states that half the proceeds from the NFTs sales will be donated to charity. Nevertheless, creating an unauthorized NFT version of Banksy’s original work could be a violation of his copyright. Since NFTs first began to dominate conversations in the art world late last year, much criticism has revolved around the fact that the accessibility of the technology makes it extremely easy for artwork to be stolen.
Attempting to profit off of artwork without first obtaining proper copyright clearance isn’t a practice that began with NFTs, but the fact that high-profile artists are vulnerable to these episodes also means that far less powerful creatives are even more exposed. Recently, a huge controversy was sparked when an unauthorized NFT version of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1986 piece Free Comb with Pagoda was made available for sale on the platform OpenSea.
The unauthorized NFT was made with the stipulation that if the buyer wished, they could have the original Basquiat mixed media work destroyed so that the non-fungible token would be the only existing version of the work. This notion was promptly shut down after swift intervention from the artist’s estate. The episode illustrated how potentially destructive NFTs can be if wielded with ill intent.