NFT market top signal? Fake Banksy nets over $1 million in ETH from NFT sales

As the cryptoTwitter community debates the fair value of Cryptopunks and other NFTs rising to sky-high valuations, there’s at least one clear sign of the digital collectibles market growing irrational: an individual posing as Banksy, perhaps the most famous living artist, has netted over $1 million in ETH in NFT sales. 

Starting on Sunday, Feb 14, frequent browsers of the NFT marketplaces Opensea and Rarible noticed an account named “Pest Supply” with branding and NFTs made in Banksy’s signature graffiti-stencil style. Many were quick to jump in, given the ‘real’ Banksy’s habit for pop-up installations:

Wallet profiler Nansen shows that the individual’s listed address first became active February 13, and was most active yesterday, Febuary 19. Before Opensea wiped much of the account history and disabled further sales, the account’s record showed hundreds of sales to buyers ranging from .116 ETH to over 60 ETH for a piece titled “NFT morons.” Noted whale wallet 0xb1 also made a few purchases, including one transaction worth 34 ETH, or $68,000.

In an email obtained by Cointelegraph, Banksy’s “legal guardian” Pest Control has denied any association with the NFTs. Likewise, the individual has indicated that they are selling knock-offs, comparing themselves to artist Elaine Sturtevant, who was known for inexact replicas of more popular artists’ work, on their Rarible bio.

The account has taken in 512 ETH total, per Nansen, with nearly 430 ETH sent to a secondary address. The individual’s Rarible page includes a set of screenshots and Etherscan transactions ostensibly proving 23.5 ETH in donations to Save The Children, a humanitarian organization — less than 5% of the individual’s total haul.

Duped collectors are now left wondering, however: were we tricked? Could it be a double-bluff and a genuine Banksy installation? Do the NFTs have value either way?

Real or fake? Who cares?

Max Osiris, a prominent crypto artist, tipped off the community on that Banksy’s “legal guardian”, Pest Control, had denied any association with the NFTs in an email: 

The email exchange, which Osiris forwarded to Cointelegraph, shows Osiris asking if the NFTs are Banksy works listed “legit undercover,” and Pest Control responding by saying “there isn’t an affiliation in any way, shape or form.” Cointelegraph has reached out to Pest Control and received no response. 

This alone doesn’t prove that the NFTs are faked Banksy work, however, as Pest Control is known for denying association with ongoing installations. Instead, the individual’s Rarible page is now the clearest indication that they are not associated with Banksy.

“Locked by decentralized OpenSea as they have no idea who Elaine Sturtevant is and know nothing about art history. This is art history in making,” reads the individual’s bio.

Elaine Sturtevant is known for recreating the works of more famous artists from memory, a method that some believe raises philosophical questions regarding the nature of authenticity and originality. 

The art blog NFT Art Review supports the view that the fake Banksy is working in this mode, writing that the individual performed “phenomenal appropriation art that dissects the perception from the collecting circle and how value can be created from satire.” 

The individual may have updated their Rarible bio on Friday night in direct response to the the blog, which was published on Friday morning. 

Osiris believes it’s ultimately up to the collector to make these value judgements — and it’s up to them to protect themselves from fakes, whatever that means.

“Yes, I think art has value even if it’s a fake because it’s up to the collector to figure out what they’re getting. In a sense this is a pretty succesful art project, especially if the money goes to where they claim it will go,” he said, referencing the individual’s charity efforts.

Two of the currently-listed works done in Banksy’s style are priced at over 100 ETH, or $200,000 dollars each. The individual claims to have donated roughly $47,000 to charity.

Signs of froth

Noted NFT collector-whale Pranksy marked perhaps the clearest sign of an overheated market with his own NFT run, a true hat-on-a-hat named “Pest Demand.”

While he says he made the run in an effort to “mock” the fake Banksy, he instead made 12 ETH, or $24,000, in sales.

“People bought it because they are all euphoric,” he said.

Artist “Twerky Pepe” highlighted the absurdity of the situation with a Tweet in which they promoted their Pranksy purchase as either a good investment or a fun, ironic buy (the Cointelegraph weekend editorial team was unable to divine which):

Osiris agrees that the collectors and speculators are overeager at this stage in the market — and says that the artist in fact exploited those sentiments. 

“It’s a clever slight-of-hand move by someone who timed the excitement of “celebrities” coming into the space, the mystery of Banksy’s modus operandi, and Rarible’s verification system,” he said. The individual was able to gain a Rarible “yellow checkmark” because they were not, in technicality, posing as Banksy, just using Banksy’s style and legal likeness.

It’s mania that may only get worse, he said.

“The frenzy around NFT’s has created a sort of monster where people are trying to rush in and be the first to get something that becomes valuable and fail to look deeper or do more research.”

Sales for the individual’s fake Banksies continue apace, with at least a dozen NFTs purchased in the last twelve hours. 

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