A collection of street-art works by Banksy, removed from buildings, will be auctioned this week. The eight artworks include ‘Girl with a Red Balloon’, a piece so famous that no less a cultural heavyweight than Justin Bieber has it tattooed on his arm. They form the most expensive collection of the Bristolian’s work ‘ever assembled under one roof’ as the organisers say, and will be on display at the Me Hotel on the Strand from Thursday April 24 to Sunday April 27, before going under the hammer. But isn’t taking this art out of a public place and flogging it to the highest bidder a bit dodgy?
Some people definitely think so.‘We’ve had death threats through the post and bricks thrown through windows,’ says Tony Baxter, director of the Sincura Group who are organising the show. ‘It’s been quite nasty.’
It’s claimed that some of these works have been preserved by their removal. ‘Girl with a Red Balloon’ was unearthed from behind advertising hoardings near Liverpool Street and saved from inevitable ruin. The rest have come off private buildings at the owners’ request. Some owners simply want to turn a profit from their art windfall; others want the works removed so that their building isn’t in line for listed status, since that can dramatically affect its usage and potential value. All are asked to make a donation to their community from the sale proceeds.
‘Councils make a fuss about preserving them, but often they cause damage by covering them with plastic sheeting,’ explains Baxter. ‘We’ve had the world’s best restorers working on them. By taking these pieces off the streets, it means they’ll still exist in 100 years.’ That may be true, but whether anyone will be able to see them in the future is debatable. As for the artist, predictably he’s saying nothing.
‘Stealing Banksy’ is at Me London from today until Sun Apr 27, 336-337 Strand, WC2R 1HA. Find out more at stealingbanksy.com. Tickets £17.50.