Stealing Banksy?

Restored works by the graffiti artist are auctioned in London

In New York during October 2013, Banksy, the elusive graffiti artist, produced street art all over the city, in a project called Better Out Than In. It created a frenzy of excitement and garnered the ultimate accolade, the wrath of Mayor Bloomberg. Twitter was on fire as New Yorkers dashed from Williamsburg to Hell’s Kitchen to catch a glimpse of Concrete Confessional and The Sirens of the Lambs, a roving truck stuffed with trapped toy sheep (and friends).  

Banksy is now considered an important international artist, partly because of the secrecy of his identity as he pops up, Batman-like, with spray paints, only to disappear, leaving his mark. But the problem has been how to preserve his artwork, which has mostly been created on private buildings: much has been defaced or simply painted over. However, a new London exhibition, Stealing Banksy?, will take 20 of his works – including OldSkool, Liverpool Rat, Balloon Girl, Sperm Alarm (first picture), Silent Majority and 2 Rats (third picture) – off the streets and into an exhibition (tickets, £17.50) running from Thursday April 24 at the ME London hotel and culminating in an auction on Sunday April 27.

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Sales will be on behalf of the building owners, but a proportion of the profits will go to local charities (the percentage varies according to the owner), including The Tree of Hope, The Lyra Pearman Fund, Rowan Park School in Litherland, Asser Bishvil Foundation and Kunstmuseum Basel Stiftung. The headline charity is The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (UK), to which donations will go from ticket sales, auction registration and corporate events.

“Building owners approach us to remove the Banksy piece on their outside walls because they run the real risk of having a grade II listing put on the property, which can affect the resale,” explains Tony Baxter, director of Sincura Group, the concierge company organising the sale. “They have never asked for these pieces on their walls.” Perhaps. But isn’t a Banksy on your house something to cherish? Could it not increase the value rather than diminish it? Who actually owns it? And are there not social, moral and legal issues? Such are the topics that the exhibition hopes to address.

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Stealing Banksy? is the most valuable collection of Banksy’s artworks to be assembled under one roof, with an estimated total worth of over £5m. For Sincura Group, it is the culmination of a 12-month project to uncover, salvage and restore pieces such as No Ball Games (second picture), valued at £1m, which was removed from the side of a shop in Tottenham last year, and all profits from the sale of which will go to the charity Step by Step.

No Ball Games is one of the most iconic and beautiful Banksy works ever created and is essentially his flagship piece,” says Baxter. “What’s more, the project to salvage and restore it has been the most expensive restoration to date, taking nine months and costing over £100,000.”

The question is, what would Banksy think of his art presented as “stolen”? If only it were possible to find him to ask…

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