It’s a contemporary art heist; James Bondian and as brazen as the pilfering of Picasso from Greece’s National Gallery last year, and it has outraged the citizens of London on a par.
Banksy, the wildly popular and pathologically secretive British street artist, is held in high esteem for his anarchist principles, his sense of irreverence, and his general “f**k you” attitude toward convention of any kind, particularly within the art world. So imagine his pique at this latest affront.
One of London’s most beloved pieces of Banksy art, stenciled in May of 2012 onto the wall of a commercial building called Poundland in the Turnpike Lane area of Wood Green, Northern London, has gone missing. Literally. The mural, called “Slave Labour (Bunting Boy),” was proudly affixed to the building’s wall until last week when it was unceremoniously, and without known permission, hacked completely away:
And where is it now? After its rather assaultive removal, a photograph of the image suddenly popped up as an artful inclusion in the sales catalogue – set to be sold for between $500,000 and $700,000 – of the online Fine Art Auctions gallery of Miami, Florida. Welcome to America, Banksy!
Though it’s not being publicized where, exactly, the plundered piece is being held, it’s rumored to be tucked away somewhere in Europe. From The Sun UK:
Website owner Frederic Thut said it was being sold by a “well-known collector” but wouldn’t name the person.
He told The Sun he was offered it along with Banksy’s Wet Dog Bethlehem 2007, adding: “The collector signed a contract saying everything was above board.
“If he has lied to us it is important to know. But I don’t think he lies to us.”
Frederic said the collector is not British and that the piece is in storage in Europe.
The proud people of London are not happy about this. Not a’tall. Banksy is a folk hero, a star of the London street scene; so popular his somewhat controversial documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which followed artist and filmmaker Thierry Guetta, was a sensation at its Sundance Film Festival premiere in 2010, cementing his status as an artistic iconoclast. Though the film was met with mixed reviews, it was noted “how quickly non-art-world audiences were to accept the notion of graffiti as a major spectacle.”
Certainly the “spectacle” of a local neighborhood getting their own Banksy was inarguable; the piece of valued art imprinted upon the area a sort of “cool quotient”; a pedigree, if you will, of perceived value. From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Alan Strickland, a councilor with local Haringey Council, said the mural had become “a real symbol of local pride” in an area badly hit in England’s August 2011 riots.
“The Banksy created a huge amount of excitement when it first appeared, and residents are understandably shocked and angry that it has been removed for private sale,” Strickland said. “The community feels that this artwork was given to it for free, and that it should be kept in Haringey where it belongs, not sold for a fast buck.” [… ]
The lawmaker representing Turnpike Lane, Lynne Featherstone, says she has asked the building’s owner for an explanation but has yet to receive a reply. Poundland, the store that occupies the building, said it had nothing to do with the removal.
“(It’s) totally unethical that something so valued should be torn without warning from its community context,” Featherstone said.
Local authorities have asked Britain’s Arts Council for help in getting the artwork back.
And what does Banksy think of the imbroglio? So far no word. A man who refuses to reveal his real name and has never allowed himself to be photographed except in hoods and shadows (though this picture, at right, purports to be of the artist), his mission statement is focused on pricking staid ideals, promoting satire, and making provocative commentary about contemporary culture. He is often categorized with such street artists as Above, Swoon, and Shepard Fairey (he of the iconic and litigious “Hope” Obama poster), but Banksy holds a certain mystique that transcends the others.
“Slave Labour (Bunting Boy)” is clearly his work, displayed on this page of his website as part of a gallery, but did it really “belong” to the fine folks at Turnpike Lane? Local authorities are unequivocal:
Councillor Alan Strickland said: “Banksy gave our community that painting for free.
“Someone has taken it and plans to make a huge amount for themselves, which is disgusting and counter to the spirit in which it was given.
“No doubt Banksy will be horrified.” [Source]
That seems likely. The Q & A section of his website offers the following:
What do you think about the auction houses selling street art?
I was very embarrassed when my canvases began to fetch high prices, I saw myself condemned to a future of painting nothing but masterpieces – Henri Matisse
One might suggest fan response but Banksy is not on Facebook or Twitter.