Browsing the BBC News website over bran flakes today and I come across this really interesting news item.
The piece of street art the article is about, ‘Slave Labour’, was painted by graffiti artist, Banksy, on the side of a branch of Poundland in London in May 2012, allegedly as a protest against the use of sweat shops to produce Jubilee and 2012 Olympics memorabilia.
The artwork was protected by a protective perspex screen and was very popular with the local community. The owners of the Poundland shop claimed that the work brought them nothing but grief, as local gang members threatened them with damage to the work unless they paid money in return. It produced a lot of attention, not all of it positive, they claimed.
‘Slave Labour’ mysteriously disappeared from the side of the Poundland shop in February this year. No theft was reported yet nobody claims to have authorized the removal of the artwork (or simply a chunk of the Poundland shop wall). The shop owners declined to comment.
The artwork then appeared on an online site, with the seller claiming that they had acquired it through legitimate means and a well-known art dealer. The piece was withdrawn from the auction due to the controversy after a few bids had been placed.
Banksy’s response was to quote from Henry Matisse: ‘I was very embarrassed when my canvases began to fetch high prices, I saw myself condemned to a future of painting nothing but masterpieces’.
And so it appears to be on sales again. It is up for sale at £900,000. Tony Baxter, director of the company selling the artwork, seems visibly very nervous talking about it in the BBC news item.
My question is, how bizarre it is that an artwork be sold without the artist’s permission. Who does it belong to? I had assumed that it would have belonged to the artist, rather than the shop upon which it was painted, or as it turns out whoever removed the chunk of wall. It seems unfair that the artist doesn’t have a say in whether his work is sold, how much it should be sold for, (and, if he actually wanted any, that he doesn’t get any of the money!).
It seems that even street artists are unable to escape the clutches of the art establishment. They are no longer immune to economic forces.
Banksy’s Slave Labour mural auctioned in London, BBC News website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-22749345 [last accessed 3 June 2013]
Wikipidiea article on ‘Slave Labour’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_Labour_%28mural%29 [last accessed 3 June 2013]