Off the wall: Banksy murals move from West Bank to Miami
Palestinian protest paintings fail to sell on eBay, spend a season in the Hamptons and are now heading for Florida fair
By Anny Shaw. Art Market, Issue 240, November 2012
Published online: 26 November 2012
Two murals attributed to Banksy, which were originally painted in Bethlehem in 2007 and re-emerged amid controversy in an exhibition at the Keszler Gallery in the Hamptons, near New York, in August 2011, are due to go on show in Miami in December. The removal of the works, Stop and Search and Wet Dog, from the West Bank sparked fierce criticism from some in the trade, who said the murals should have been left in situ and that the galleries involved had no right to take them.
The works, together with Kissing Coppers, around 2005, salvaged from a pub wall in Brighton on the south coast of England, and Out of Bed Rat, 2002, originally painted in Los Angeles, will feature in “Banksy Out of Context” (5-9 December), an exhibition of the British street artist’s murals. The show is part of the debut edition of Context, a contemporary art fair organised by Art Miami. It is being produced in conjunction with Stephan Keszler, the owner of the eponymous gallery, and Robin Barton, the owner of London’s Bankrobber Gallery. They came under fire last year for transporting Stop and Search and Wet Dog from the West Bank to the US. According to Barton, however, they did not take the works directly from their original sites; instead, the murals had been removed around a year after they were painted and left in a stonemason’s yard in Bethlehem before Barton and Keszler bought them.
“The guys who took them from their original sites were Palestinians,” Barton says. “They tried to sell them on eBay for $500,000 each. When they couldn’t sell them, around four years ago they approached me.”
In 2010, Barton and Keszler paid £24,000 to transport the murals, which together weigh nearly six tonnes, across the border to Israel and then on to Britain, where they spent around £34,000 on restoring and framing them. The dealers paid a further £24,000 to ship the works to New York, they say.
Barton says that none of the works in the Miami exhibition will be for sale because the aim of the show is to “continue the debate about whether a work of art is still valid outside its original context”. Last year, while on show in the Hamptons, Stop and Search was priced at $450,000, Wet Dog at $420,000, Kissing Coppers at $550,000 and Out of Bed Rat at $400,000.
None of the works has been authenticated by Banksy, who never signs his murals. Pest Control, the body that authenticates Banksy’s gallery works, does not authenticate murals either. This is partly to protect Banksy from prosecution for defacing public property (he once said that if he were to authenticate his street art, it would be like writing “a signed confession on letterhead”). All four murals have appeared on Banksy’s official website, which is commonly accepted as proof of the artist’s hand.
Barton describes the situation as “a sort of Mexican stand-off. [Banksy] would never authenticate them, but we all know they are real.” But the lack of definitive authentication of his murals has led to confusion in the market. “[Banksy murals] are a sort of poisoned chalice,” Barton says. “We know that they are unsellable through the standard auction houses. Anyone buying [them] has to be in it for the long game.”
“Safe enough for a bunch of sissy artists…”
Banksy first visited Bethlehem in 2005, when he painted nine murals on the 436-mile West Bank wall. The works depict scenes from life beyond the barrier and earned praise from human rights campaigners who condemn the wall, which Israel started to build in 2002. Banksy returned to Bethlehem in December 2007 to stage his annual “Santa’s Ghetto” exhibition there. Stop and Search and Wet Dog were among the six murals he painted in the city to draw attention to the conflict and to support the tourism industry. At the time, Banksy said: “Because of the troubles, Bethlehem is no longer a top tourist destination, but it would be good if people came to see… for themselves. If it is safe enough for a bunch of sissy artists, then it is safe enough for anyone.”
Correction: The mural Stop and Search pictured above is not the same version that will be shown in Miami
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