Banksy is the pseudonym of an English street artist. That statement is about as accurate as Julia Child is an American cook. It is accurate, but incomplete. He is also a movie maker – maybe – and, most importantly, a social commentator. No, most importantly, he is extremely talented. And prolific, graffiting everywhere from London to South Africa, from San Francisco to Israel. Below is a picture of his work in San Francisco that I took (all the other pictures are lifted from the Net).
Typically, Banksy stencils a piece of art and then makes a comment on it.
Sometimes no comment is necessary as in this picture on the new wall dividing Israel and the West bank (if it is not obvious, the painting is on the Palestinian side),
or this picture of a bare foot boy making British Flags which was painted on the side of a store selling -among other notions – cheap flags for the London Olympics.
The picture, above, is where this story gets interesting and, to my mind, starts to raise questions.
The picture above, has been removed and the wall is now blank and looks like the picture at the top of the post. The removed picture is going to be sold at auction in Miami with an estimated sales price of $700,000 (going to I-am-not-sure). The store, Poundland, says that they did not remove the graffiti and the auction house says that the graffiti is legal, so the graffiti of a barefoot boy, in a sweatshop, in someplace like Bangladesh, was probably removed by the building owner.
This has angered the local residents who have been very proud to have a Banksy in their neighborhood and who consider it a piece of public art in which they have a vested interest. Who owns the picture and who should own it? Do the locals? Banksy doesn’t own it even though he painted – sprayed? – it. It is highly unlikely that he got the building owner’s permission to deface their property or colluded with them to make money (and, if he did, everything I wrote about it and am about to write is moot). Poundland doesn’t own it, but – it seems to me- they have a vested interest because it does increase their traffic (to the point that there are directions at the local subway station – underground, if you prefer – on how to find the art work). The City – Township, or what ever goofy English name the Local Governing Body has – doesn’t own it but they also have the right to zone against graffiti, so don’t they have the right to mandate its protection?
It seems to me that all these vested interests should trump the building owner’s desire to remove it – in the middle of the night, apparently – and sell it for $700,000, or what ever they get. None of the other interested parties, Poundland, Banksy, the City, or the locals will get any of that money; only the building owner – and the action house – will get any money. But, I suspect, the courts would disagree with me. At least that is what the building owner is counting on. For them, it is a little like winning a small lottery: out of nowhere, a picture was painted on their wall and they are the richer for it.
Lastly, who is going to buy this work of art? After paying $700,000 – that is only an estimate, a suggestion really, of what it will sell for – and the new owner puts it on their wall, what do they say to the assembled admirers? The 1954 movie, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in which Captain Nemo seems to be the owner of a stolen painting – it is shown prominently in the background during the salon scenes – seems to be asking the same question. No matter how great the art work is, what is the fun of owning it if owning it implies that you are a jerk. And, in my humble opinion, anybody buying this work of art is sort of a jerk.
To not end on a down note, her are a couple of other Banksy murals – as they are now being called – that are still where they were meant to be.