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Street art removal firm plans to open museum

Sincura Group, which held a controversial exhibition of Banksy murals removed from their original locations, says it never meant to sell the works

Sincura showed Banksy's mural No Ball Games last month and estimated it would sell for between £500,000 and £1m. But now it says it really wants to put it in a street art museum

The Sincura Group, which organised a controversial exhibition of Banksy murals in London in April, says it is in talks to convert a disused London Underground station into what it describes as the world’s first street art museum. The events firm originally planned to auction nine Banksy murals on 27 April, but in an unexpected turnaround just a few days later, it posted a statement on its website saying that “Stealing Banksy?”, held at the ME London hotel, was never meant to be a selling exhibition. Instead, it was meant to gauge public opinion for a potential museum, according to the company, which also removes and sells Banksy murals from their original locations on commission.

Sincura’s announcement came as a surprise to many in the street art world, and contradicted the unofficial newspaper that accompanied the exhibition, which gave guide prices for nine murals ranging from £100,000 to £500,000. The auction was expected to raise around £2m in total.

However, The Art Newspaper has learned that the murals may still be up for sale—with the proviso that they are temporarily loaned to the street art museum once it opens. “I wouldn’t say the auction is necessarily off the table,” says Ajit Chambers, the founder of The Old London Underground Company. Chambers is hoping to find a space for the museum.

Chambers says he has been discussing plans for a museum with the Sincura Group for at least a year. The idea is to hold rolling exhibitions, starting with the Banksy murals. The museum is expected to take nine months to build, and revenue is due to come from ticket sales. Chambers describes Sincura’s turnaround on selling the works as “a calculation”. “I don't think they wanted the works to disappear from view,” he says.

Lee Bofkin, the co-founder of the online archive Global Street Art, has been earmarked as a possible curator for the museum. Bofkin says he was not made aware of the Sincura Group’s intentions, but that the exhibition—and advertised auction—generated “a massive amount of press”. Bofkin is quick to distance himself from any purchase of the Banksy works, but acknowledges the “time is ripe” for a museum dedicated to street art. “How it is going to be realised is going to be a real challenge, but the notion of a street art museum is solid,” he says.

Joe Epstein, who runs the LDN Graffiti blog and designed the unofficial newspaper, The Banksy Bugle, that accompanied Sincura’s show also says he was unaware of Sincura’s plans. “Initially I was shocked,” he says. While Epstein says he does not condone the removal of art from the streets, he is philosophical about the inevitability of a museum dedicated to the medium. “Perhaps a street art museum is a much better outcome than the art being stuffed away by some rich geezer,” he says.

However, even the temporary exhibition caused outcry among critics, gallerists and street artists—including Banksy himself—and it remains to be seen how a museum that advocates taking graffiti from its original location and placing it in a gallery setting will be received. Frankie Shea, the founder of Moniker Projects and Moniker Art Fair in London, says the site specificity of street art is “integral” to the work. “I for one will not be visiting or encouraging their so-called street art museum if they are displaying removed street art pieces,” Shea says.

The London museum may not be the first dedicated to street art in the world, as Sincura claims. The Mana Museum of Urban Arts, which begins construction in New Jersey in June and programming in September, may get there first. The Sincura Group declined to comment for this story.

Clarification: This article was updated to clarify that The Old London Underground Company is in no way affiliated with Transport for London and does not lease out disused Tube stations.​

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