The brothers who started The Chive want to open a Banksy museum in Austin
Framed next to an H-E-B butter tortilla-scented candle and a Darth Vader mask at The Chive's downtown Austin office is a piece of street art you're likely to recognize — "Love Rat" by Banksy.
The artist's "Grin Reaper" print is framed and hanging on a wall at the office, too; it was decorated with twinkle lights and a garland ahead of the holidays.
This is business as usual at The Chive, a popular photo and humor website. In fact, Banksy works hang all over the downtown offices of both The Chive and Atmosphere TV, a streaming service. They are so casually integrated into the spaces that you may not notice if you don't know a Banksy when you see one.
Leo and John Resig, brothers and founders of The Chive and Atmosphere TV, have collected Banksy for more than a decade. They say they're going to open the first-ever museum dedicated to the popular and anonymous street artist in Austin.
Though the street artist's identity is a mystery, his star has risen over the past two decades. A print of "Girl with Balloon," arguably his most famous work, shredded itself (via a hidden mechanism) after it was sold at a 2018 auction. The now-partially-destroyed print, called "Love Is in the Bin," was resold for $25.4 million last year, according to the New York Times.
In November, we caught up with the Resigs, originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a story about six Banksy pieces they donated for a limited stay at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. What was initially a conversation about the airport turned into an hourlong talk about the future the Resigs see for their Banksy collection.
Bitten by the Banksy bug
Their obsession began about a decade ago with some garage doors. Leo Resig got into street art in 2008 and learned of Banksy two years later. "Exit Through the Gift Shop," a Banksy documentary, came out the same year.
In February 2011, Banksy works were popping up all over Los Angeles ahead of the Academy Awards; the documentary had been nominated.
"We lived in Venice Beach, and I followed a Venice Beach art blog, which I know, it sounds weird. Someone took a picture and said, 'Banksy spotted in Venice.' Tiffany and I, my wife and I, got on our beach cruisers and went up and down every alley, because the picture, you could tell it was on a garage door," Leo Resig said.
"It's not that big of a town. We traversed alleys and alleys, which is probably not the safest thing to do. We didn't find it on the first day, but on the second day, we came upon it."
The work depicts a woman giving a solider fast food, and it was created on a garage door at a quad-plex.
(The piece remains unauthenticated as a genuine Banksy work; the Resig brothers do not claim that it is. The garage door piece, however, resembles the anonymous artist's style, and it appeared the same week the artist's work was popping up in Los Angeles.)
Leo Resig wrote letters to the four residents there, saying he was interested in getting in touch with the landlord about the garage door.
One of the residents responded, and as luck would have it, the landlord was looking to get rid of the garage doors. They were really old, weighed about 1,500 pounds each and had become inoperable, Leo Resig said.
"And the guy said, 'I'll tell you what. If you buy me four new garage doors, I'll give you all the old ones,'" Leo Resig said.
It was a deal. They eventually had the garage door hauled to The Chive office after the brothers moved to Austin in 2013.
'Meant to be shared with the world'
The Resigs had only three limited-edition Banksy prints two years ago. Just before the coronavirus pandemic, the brothers went on a business trip to London in February 2020. They were looking for an Indian restaurant when Leo Resig looked up, saw Maddox Gallery and said: "There's 'Girl with Balloon.'"
"How magical is that?" John Resig said. They bought the print.
The visit to the gallery spurred a bit of a buying frenzy, John Resig said. When they came home from London, they gave their art broker a list of Banksy pieces they wanted and saw what they could get. (They've since created a collectors' guide of the artist's prints.)
"We've always been a little uncomfortable with the fact that we've got these in our house and we're not sharing with other people, because art is meant to be shared with the world," John Resig said of the brothers' collection.
The Resigs have now collected 17 Banksy pieces that have been authenticated by Pest Control, which is "the office that handles the paperwork for the graffiti artist Banksy," according to its website. Those looking to buy a Banksy, or those who have already purchased one, can submit information about the piece to Pest Control for authentication. The group says it keeps detailed records of Banksy works and is the only point of contact for the artist.
The brothers have 11 other works that do not qualify for authentication from Pest Control. The group does not authenticate street pieces or collectibles from the artist's pop-ups. There's no information on the Pest Control website detailing what qualifies a piece for authentication. The Resigs' unauthenticated works include the garage door piece from Venice Beach and one scraped from the Shoreditch Bridge in London; both now live in The Chive's Austin office.
'Hell or high water'
With the airport exhibit, the brothers got their feet wet and gave Austin a taste of what's to come in an eventual Banksy museum, Leo Resig said. They plan to host a pop-up Banksy show during South by Southwest at Atmosphere TV's office on Congress Avenue. The pop-up will have interactive elements and include items from the brothers' collection.
The goal for the Banksy museum is to showcase every limited-edition print created by the artist. The museum would not be authorized by the artist, Leo Resig said.
"We will own all the pieces and are legally able to display the works and charge admission to exhibition," he said.
The Resigs want the museum to contain a replica of Banksy's studio, along with virtual reality and other interactive exhibits. They plan for it to operate as a privately owned entity; Leo Resig said they want to work with the city's cultural arts department.
"I think to get it off the ground, we would definitely want to look for certain grants that could be available, but hell or high water, we're going to open one," Leo Resig said.
The brothers do not plan on waiting to acquire every single Banksy print before they open a museum. They hope that by opening a space dedicated to their mission to collect all the prints, word will spread, and people will come out of the woodwork to help.
The Resigs pointed to the huge draw of a Banksy pop-up — sometimes up to 400,000 people show up — as proof of what such a museum could do for Austin.
"A permanent Banksy museum in Austin will instantly make (the city) a global destination for a lot of people," John Resig said. "This art exhibit at the airport is for a global audience."
He thinks of it as a proof of concept for something much larger, and much more ambitious.