A mural believed to be the work of famed street artist Banksy which mysteriously disappeared from a shop wall has sold for over $1.1 million at a private auction in London. The stencil, which depicts a child toiling over a textile machine making Union Jack bunting, originally resurfaced in an online auction from an art dealer in Miami, stoking outrage among residents of London's Wood Green neighborhood, where the piece was found on the wall of a Poundland discount store.
At the time, the work was valued between $500,000 - $700,000. However it was unknown whether the building's owners or someone else arranged for the removal, and ongoing controversy caused the auction to stall. The current dealer, London-based Banksy specialist Robin Barton, says the mural was bought from Wood Green Investments, the company owning the building on which it was found. It sold last night in London for over £700,000 ($1.1 million) during a three and a half hour silent auction, where attendees "sipped Taittinger champagne and listened to house music as they admired the newly-framed mural flanked by a pair of security guards," Bloomberg reports.
An old tension between public art and private collectors
The case highlights an age-old tension between the ability of the general public to enjoy street art by renowned subversives like Banksy and its tendency to fall into the hands of private collectors. (Banksy's most valuable work to date, Wet Dog, sold for $1.8 million in 2008.) Slave Labor also notably lacks Banksy's "Pest Control" certification, a system the artist devised to root out fakes — but that's likely because the service refuses to verify Banksy works that are “removed from their original context." Barton asserts the piece is indeed genuine, and says the auction was an attempt to keep the piece inside the UK.
“If one takes the view that Banksy has made a significant contribution to 21st-century art history, then this is best represented through his visceral street works, often created in the dead of night with the threat of arrest ever present," he tells Bloomberg. "The stencil and sprayed canvas works are a poor imitation of the real thing.”