Banksy’s work has caused another controversy, but this time it isn’t about his work, it’s about where it went. A Banksy piece was found on the side of a building in North London, where it was stolen by unknown parties after being there for less than a year. Soon after, an American art dealer announced that the piece was going to be up for sale, with an estimated price of nearly one million dollars.
The piece was verified and became a well-known fixture in the community, and the piece itself was reportedly removed without the permission of the building owner. Some locals have called the act theft and demanded the piece be given back since it is stolen property.
In response, Bologna street artist Blu started painting over his pieces in his hometown. Done leading up to a show he was having, he said the decision to destroy his own work was made in part because of the story in London.
It’s important to note that Banksy is, as always, an exceptional example in the world of graffiti and public art. He is both unknown and the most popular graffiti artist in the world, which means he cannot have a significant say in what happens to his work once it is on public property. If Banksy was, say, Shepard Fairey, then he could issue a statement or participate in the conversation in a more significant way.
On the other hand, Banksy’s work has changed the lives of people throughout the world in a financial capacity. A few years ago, a single mom in England woke up to a Banksy on her home’s side wall. The wall section was removed and the art sold at auction, to which she received most of the profits. But here, the property case is more complicated, especially since no one has reported the theft as a crime.
Graffiti is almost founded on the idea of property and this incident questions both who owns the piece and what ownership the artists have over it once it’s completed. For Banksy, his identity makes his work a target while limiting his ability to contribute to the conversation. Blu’s protest suggests that the artist can “take back” their work at any time with a roller and some unsightly paint. And seeing as Banksy’s mural was indeed stolen and then sold elsewhere in the world, it becomes a question of who owns the piece once it’s finished. Is it the building owners, the artist, or whoever can rip it off the wall the fastest?
Depending on who you ask, you will get a different opinion, and that will certainly change from nation to nation. In London, no crimes were reported during the incident and the thieves were never discovered. Some may wonder if the piece was, in fact, not stolen, but removed for a fee and sold later. Whatever the reasoning and end result, though, Banksy’s work continues to challenge in more ways than one.