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The Poundland Banksy is not the Parthenon Sculptures – but there are similarities

Locals comment, that having the Poundland Banksy [1] increased tourist visiting their area – which in turn would have increased money coming to the area.

“It had been ripped out with no explanation, along with quite a substantial chunk of the wall,” could just as easily have been a statement from a Greek referring to the desecrated acropolis post Elgin.

It is interesting, that even for an item only removed a few days ago, there is difficulty tracking down what actually happened & who sold it to whom & whether they were allowed to or not. Hardly surprising then, that many cultural heritage disputes dating back hundreds of years are marred by contradictory facts.

There are of course, also many differences between the cases. This is something that is true of nearly all cultural property cases – a subtlety that wasn’t picked up by David Cameron in his comparisons between the Koh-i-noor & the Parthenon Marbles [2] last week.

New York Times [3]

Borough Searches for Missing Boy, Last Seen on Wall
The work, called “Slave Labour,” has become a point of pride in Haringey, the site of some of the nastiest rampages in the 2011 London riots.
Published: February 28, 2013

“It had been ripped out with no explanation, along with quite a substantial chunk of the wall,” said Alan Strickland, a member of the local council, describing the bizarre scene that greeted passers-by the other weekend. “All that was left was this hole.”

The work — called “Slave Labour” and depicting a downtrodden, barefoot boy making Union Jacks on a sewing machine — had become a point of pride in Haringey, the site of some of the nastiest rampages in the 2011 London riots. Stenciled onto the wall of the everything-costs-a-pound Poundland store on Whymark Avenue, it drew visitors from across London and abroad; so many people asked for directions that the local subway station erected a special “This way to our Banksy” sign.

“There really isn’t any other reason people would come to Wood Green,” said Eve de Meza, who lives nearby, speaking of the neighborhood that housed the work.

After “Slave Labour” disappeared, leaving the empty hole (soon filled in by builders who maintained they did not know the identity of the person paying them), Haringey faced a mystery. But the work surfaced almost immediately thousands of miles away in Miami, as the star attraction in a contemporary art auction. Though it was withdrawn from the auction at the last minute, after an outcry by outraged Banksy aficionados, that has not solved the residents’ main problem.

They would like their art back, please.

“When it arrived, it was brilliant,” said Tim West, co-owner of the Big Green Bookshop. “It had a ‘really’ factor — as in, ‘Wood Green? Really?’ ”

Wood Green would indeed seem an unlikely spot for a mural valued at $500,000 to $700,000, the figure the auction house, Fine Art Auctions Miami, had set for the sale. Poundland, an unlovely, unloved store that has its own “really” factor (as in: this huge package of batteries costs a pound? Really?) sits on a bustling corner amid a hodgepodge of charity shops, fast-food shacks and discount clothing emporia.

The notion that the elusive Banksy had singled out their community, of all the places in London, for one of his renowned guerrilla art projects was particularly appealing to residents. The artist works anonymously, at night, wherever he feels like working. He never signs his pieces; the only way to tell if they are authentic, dealers say, is to check his official Web site and see if they appear there. “Slave Labour” did.

But like many works by Banksy, an expert in attracting publicity while seeming not to court it, the work provided a commentary on its location, making a sharp point about sweatshop labor, the Queen’s diamond jubilee and possibly the outburst of patriotism surrounding the London Olympics. In any case, it seemed to fit right in.

Part of the residents’ problem now is that they do not know who possesses the work, so they do not know whom to yell at to get it back. Legal opinion generally holds that Banksy’s street art belongs not to him, but to whoever owns the walls he uses as canvases. That adds a further complication, because the wall in question is not owned by Poundland, but by the company it leases the space from, Wood Green Investments, and the company is not talking.

“If it wasn’t them, then somebody else did it, but my clients have not reported any theft to the police,” said Matthew Dillon, a lawyer for the company.

He acknowledged in an earlier interview that those clients are now in a fix. “If they deny removing the mural they will become embroiled in an international criminal investigation,” he told The Financial Times, “and if they admit to consenting to it, then they will become the target of abuse.” He added, “The advice to my client has been to say nothing.”

Startled by the outpouring of vitriol directed against it, the auction house in Miami is not talking, either, except to note that the work “is now back with the consignor,” whoever that is.

“I don’t have any comment,” Cornelia van der Geest, the business manager of Fine Art Auctions Miami, said in an interview. She said the firm had received hundreds of complaints about the auction, some of them not very nice.

“As an auction house, we want to be as uninvolved in this controversy as possible,” she said.

Efforts by Mr. Strickland of the Haringey council to determine who possesses the work right now have been fruitless.

“My private conversation with the owners” — that is, Wood Green Investments — “has not brought clarity in terms of what their involvement has been,” he said. “They accept that it was their wall and their property, and as soon as you ask them, ‘Do you know what happened? Was it stolen; did you sell it?’ they won’t provide answers.”

Mr. Strickland said Fine Art Auctions Miami had indicated that Wood Green Investments had sold “Slave Labour” on to a private collector, and that it was the private collector who had placed it in the auction.

“When we said, ‘Owner? Do you mean the property company?’ ” Mr. Strickland explained, “they said, ‘We can’t confirm that.’ If there is some way of getting a message to whoever owns the piece, we would like to open a dialogue.”

Inside Poundland, the manager said employees were not authorized to say anything. But a sales clerk looked wistful when the subject of “Slave Labour” came up.

“It was really nice to have so many people here taking photos,” she said, at a moment when the manager was not looking. “People on holiday, people passing through. It was a really nice painting, I mean work of art.”

She added: “I was shocked to believe that someone could just come and take art from the walls, and the wall. Is nothing safe?”