February 22, 2013

Who owns the Banksy street art on a wall? The wall owner or the public?

Posted at 7:22 pm in Similar cases

As the case of the Banksy artwork removed from the wall in Wood Green continues, more & more people are trying to draw slightly absurd parallels to the Parthenon Marbles & calling for the British Ministry of Culture to intervene to block the auction from taking place. However in this case, I can’t really understand quite what the basis for the arguments is.

It now seems clear that the owner of the building (of which the wall on which the graffiti was on was a part) authorised & presumably organised the removal of the artwork. No doubt they stand to make a reasonable profit from it. Now, Banksy picks the walls he paints on – with no consultation with the owners, so this lucky owner is soon going to be wealthier than they were before – and it is entirely through luck.

Haringey Council are claiming that the art is something that enriched the area & was in part something that belonged to the people. It is unclear how they can make this judgement, though, when much of their time is spent cleaning graffiti (that is typically of much poorer quality) off walls. There is no body which decides what is graffiti & what is street art – and that one must be scrubbed off & one preserved, so there argument does not really carry much weight.

It would be great if the work could have stayed – but that is just my own personal opinion – nothing more. Just because you don’t like what is happening, it doesn’t mean that the law should suddenly intervene (without any clear legal framework under which to do so).

Comparisons to the Parthenon Marbles are far more ridiculous – street art by its nature is a transient thing – even with protection, paint will flake off in a few years, leading it to fade away. The sale is being made legally (despite the fact that many people are upset by it).


February 20, 2013, 6:25 pm
London’s Stolen Banksy Heads to the Auction Block Despite 11th Hour English Rescue Attempt

Part of the inherent definition of street art is that it is, by nature, public. It appears on the sides of buildings and on sidewalks, in doorways and on concrete blocks. It most often appears in urban neighborhoods, and tends to lend itself to some sort of social commentary. The illicit nature of the craft is in itself subversive and, as a corollary, non-commercial. Or it was anyway.

In recent years, street art has become gritty-chic, touted by the likes of Kate Moss, and therefore increasingly popular as a collecting category. Original works by Banksy, probably the most important street artist of the last twenty years, now fetch six figures at auction. It was only a matter of time before people started ripping down walls to, quite literally, extract the value from them.

Last week, in her book review of “Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall,” ARTINFO’s Rachel Corbett wrote about about how he helped popularize the idea of finding commercial success as a street artist:

“What Banksy and [his business partner, Steve] Lazarides had done together was create a market for street art where none had existed before,” [Will] Ellsworth-Jones writes. Since 2002, prints from Banksy’s first official edition, “Rude Copper,” have gone from £40 apiece to as high as £13,000 today. Ultimately Banksy and Lazarides parted ways, and his new sales and authentication company, Pest Control, has proved even more profitable, reporting £1.1 million in assets in 2010.

These commercial works are generally editions deliberately created to be sold after a street artist has already gained popularity stenciling or painting on urban building walls. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Yesterday, ARTINFO reported that an original Banksy mural — poking fun at the fanfare surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s 60th anniversary Diamond Jubilee celebration last year — had been cut down from a wall in North London and appeared at an auction in Miami, estimated for $500,000-700,000. Today it came out that Arts Council England attempted to stop the sale, but found that they had no legal recourse to do so. Even though the work was probably stolen off the wall, the ACE has not yet been able to contact the owners of the building to verify that it was taken down illegally. Furthermore, it is unclear that any export laws were broken.

The New York Times contacted the auction house, Fine Art Auctions Miami, which assured the paper that it had acquired the work in good faith, but would not give up any details on how it came to have the mural in its possession.

“Fine Art Auctions Miami has done all the necessarily due diligence about the ownership of the work,” a spokeswoman for the house said on Wednesday morning. “Unfortunately we are not able to provide you with any information, by law and contract, about any details of this consignment. We are more than happy to do so if you can prove that the works were removed and acquired illegally.”

At this point, it seems there is little to be done but wait to see what happens next. There are so many legal gray areas in this case that it’s hard to see a future other than a broken piece of North London disappearing into some wealthy collector’s guarded enclave forever (or at least until Bansky prices spike again and it shows up at another auction house).

— Shane Ferro

Evening Standard

FBI urges probe into missing Banksy
New graffiti on Haringey wall suggests artist smells a rat
22 February 2013

Scotland Yard has been asked by the FBI to investigate the removal of a Banksy street mural in Haringey.

The Met’s arts and antiques unit launched preliminary inquiries after the celebrated graffiti artist’s work, titled Slave Labour, was hacked off a wall outside the Poundland shop near Turnpike Lane last week.

US law enforcement officials got involved when the piece, which depicts a young boy hunched over a sewing machine making Union Jack bunting, turned up for auction in Miami, where it is due to go under the hammer tomorrow with an estimated price of £500,000. After widespread public outrage led by Haringey council, questions remain over how the popular mural came to be removed — and what can be done about it.

The council and Poundland condemned the removal of the piece, which was painted last May, before the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and is thought to be a critique of sweatshops that produce cheap decorations. The owner of the building, Wood Green Investments, has so far refused to comment. Asked if the two company directors, Robert Davies and Les Gilbert, sanctioned the mural’s removal, a friend said today: “That is the $64 million dollar question.

“Here is their problem. If they were to say they were not involved then it becomes a theft and the police come knocking at their door. If they say they are involved, they will be very unpopular. If they comment in either direction it would be a problem.” It emerged today that Banksy may have passed his own verdict on the row after a new artwork was painted on the same north London wall. During the early hours a graffiti artist stencilled an image of a startled rat holding a sign with the word: “Why?”

Slave Labour, on a 4ft x 5ft slab of concrete, turned up on the website of Fine Art Auctions. Confronted by American journalists, the owner of the auction house, Frederic Thut said: “Fine Art Miami is not looking for controversy. We are looking for the good collector, the good buyer.”

A spokesman added: “Fine Art Auctions Miami has done all necessary due diligence and unfortunately is not able to provide any [further] information or details. We would be happy to do so if you can prove that the works were obtained illegally.”

Haringey council leader Claire Kober said: “We have had residents from across the borough and people across the UK and beyond express how dismayed they are that a piece of art given to the community for free is now being sold for a quick profit.

“We are urging the Culture Secretary to back our appeal and use any powers she has to halt the sale of this unique piece of public art.”

The FBI declined to comment.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Possibly related articles

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


  1. loukiablastou said,

    02.22.13 at 7:24 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Who owns the Banksy street art on a wall? The wall owner or the public? http://t.co/kb0ni01Ro3

  2. fossildotty said,

    02.22.13 at 7:27 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Who owns the Banksy street art on a wall? The wall owner or the public? http://t.co/kb0ni01Ro3

  3. shemahmforash said,

    02.22.13 at 7:37 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Who owns the Banksy street art on a wall? The wall owner or the public? http://t.co/kb0ni01Ro3

  4. bananarahmana said,

    02.22.13 at 7:47 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Who owns the Banksy street art on a wall? The wall owner or the public? http://t.co/kb0ni01Ro3

  5. EricdeMarylebon said,

    02.22.13 at 8:06 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Who owns the Banksy street art on a wall? The wall owner or the public? http://t.co/kb0ni01Ro3

  6. naladas said,

    02.22.13 at 8:30 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Who owns the Banksy street art on a wall? The wall owner or the public? http://t.co/kb0ni01Ro3

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment

We want to hear your views. Be as critical or controversial as you like, but please don't get personal or offensive. Remember this is for feedback and constructive discussion!
Comments may be edited or removed if they do not meet these guidelines. Repeat offenders will be blocked from posting further comments. Any comment deemed libellous by Elginism's editors will be removed.
The commenting system uses some automatic spam detection and occasionally comments do not appear instantly - please do not repost comments if they do not show up straight away