Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Money in the Banksy

oh no its art...

The above links to an article outlining an art theft. Someone was careless enough to leave a piece of art in the street which has been stolen and re-appeared in a US auction for around half a million dollars.


The someone was Banksy, popular graffiti artist whose Street Art piece was sprayed onto a Poundland shop in Whymark Avenue (no, really), London. Although it was covered with a perspex protection, a scaffold was erected, tarps hung and when it was taken away, so was the wall and the artwork. Well it makes a change from folk removing Henry Moores and street furniture for the scrap metal value.

The locals are not happy though. They recognise a value to having a Banksy. The local councillor Alan Strictland said there is “lots of anger” at the removal, and is campaigning for the work's return. Meanwhile it goes under the hammer in Miami for between £320k~£452k ($500,000~$700,000)

If they had had any sense they (the London Council) would have put out another scaffolding, got any local artist to knock out a copy, and released a statement saying it was away being cleaned. I could replicate that wee mural pretty much identically for £750 plus the train fare. (Even the woman who f'ed up the Ecce Homo mural restoration could knock out a passable Banksy.) That might have put a fly in the ointment of the provenance of the one being sold in America. I can't imagine it was easy to remove the wall section without the bricks dislodging and destroying the image. Surely easier to just remove the section, then rebuild it elsewhere, re-render it and repaint the image, the last and least tricky part of the operation. It is no Mona Lisa. It certainly doesn't have a value of a third of a million pounds in my opinion, but someone obviously thought it was worth the trouble.

Banksy will probably remain schtum. His trade mark is anonymity. You are not supposed to know his name is probably Robin Gunningham, born in '73 or '74. He went to a nice public school where he was good at art. He has denied such allegations saying “anyone described as being “good at drawing” doesn't sound like Banksy to me.” The critics are of a similar opinion describing his work as competent rather than brilliant. His work is usually stencilled graffiti in monochromes often with a splash of colour. The theme is often innocence fighting back against heavy handed authority. Charlie Brooker commented that “his work looks brilliantly clever to idiots.”

Both of the above are thought to be Banksy.

I quite like some of the images – more graphic icons than paintings. However I have a greater admiration of his ability to make a hefty income from a middling talent while avoiding the weight of the law for graffiti-ing. Again, he has good reason for anonymity.

I find his simpering political statements a little niave for someone only a dozen years my junior. Squatter-teen-angst shows two fingers to the establishment. While he is being embraced by that very establishment. His cupidity; posting aggressive dismissals on the www of the folk paying good money for his art at auction, immediately post auction, does not, as he imagines, make him more dope. Bristol Council (his own stomping ground) pledged to preserve original Banksies, while removing daubings thought to be fake or just run of the mill graffiti vandalism. And there's the rub; establishing authentication alongside the difficulties of illegality, anonymity, transience, ownership and art-versus-vandalism. Also, it is very straightforward to fake a Banksy.

The man himself said that he “didn't care if people ripped off his work,” but I doubt he had the removal of Whymark Ave in mind. He himself admits being influenced by graffiti artists like 3D of Massive Attack and has been linked with (been accused of copying) French artist Blek le Rat.

It occurred to me that it may well have been an inside job. The kind of team required to remove a section of Poundland wall (the first time in history someone has broken into Poundland?) is exactly the sort of squad Banksy has at his disposal for some of his “installation” type work. What would prompt him to steal his own work? I pictured a trip to the financial institute to get a mortgage and the banksy manager not warming to the spray paint hands and balaclava. You can't put down anonymous on the forms, you need to come clean. I imagined him being sent out of the office past next in the queue, The Stig. So maybe a nice little earner was required with a kidnap-your-own-children scam. After all, Miami says it has the paperwork.

However a quick google and you realise Banksy has been selling books, prints and rather gauche paintings for big dollar, for quite some time despite the fact that I struggled to find many great images to illustrate this text.

I am reminded of other authentication / fraud battles with artists whose work lends itself to easy reproduction. Andy Warhol is all about mechanical reproduction and who is to say whether he needed to be (or if he was) present when certain work was being created. The powers that be have stopped authenticating Jackson Pollocks because they go for $100m and let's face it are easier to fake than many more complex paintings. And more keep turning up. Here is one I made earlier.

With this story gathering momentum it will be interesting to see how things pan out. It wouldn't be the first time Banksy was in the news, albeit this time on the other side of the legal fence. A previous episode I rather liked was his Di-faced Banksy of England Tenners which were handed out, some of which were used as tender, some of which sold on ebay for £200, a nice return.

Guardian version
Banksy website

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