Pest Control, the authentication service used by Banksy, has authenticated only one of the pieces for sale (not one of the pieces from Bethlehem), which may mean they will be more difficult to sell. Pest Control seems pissed about the situation: “We have warned Mr Keszler [the gallery’s owner] of the serious implications of selling unauthenticated works, but he seems to not care,” read their statement. “We have no doubt that these works will come back to haunt Mr Keszler.” Though unauthenticated, they are likely Banksy pieces that have been ripped out of their original setting and put up for sale.
It seems by the very nature of its name that street art belongs where it was made. Context is a large part of what gives pieces of street art power, and they were inherently designed as public works of art and not private pieces to be owned.
The Bethlehem pieces in particular are the focus of this art world controversy. From NY Mag: “Yes, for a mere $425,000, you too can own a decontextualized installation, once meant to reflect the absurdity and pain of systemic unrest, and now expertly cleaned up and for sale in the Hamptons.”
The gallery owners claim that by displaying and selling the paintings, they are in fact saving pieces that would otherwise have been destroyed. I think if the real issue was preservation, they would end up in a museum as compared to being auctioned off in the Hamptons, the summery holiday spot for overly wealthy New Yorkers. The gallery seems to have exoticized the works and where they’re from, particularly after watching the promotional video it produced about the paintings. As though to say, look, now you can feel important and worldly by having a connection to the conflict in Palestine without actually having to go there.
However, while my first reaction was to completely vilify the gallery owners, they weren’t the ones who removed the pieces. In the case of the pieces in Bethlehem:
Robin Barton, the British art dealer who brought the Bethlehem works to the US, told The Independent that he sourced them from a pair of Palestinian entrepreneurs who had removed them from their original location. The duo spent two years trying, and failing, to find a willing buyer. Had he not intervened, they might never have left the West Bank, he says.
“They had tried selling them on eBay, and tried selling them to private clients. But at the end of the day, these works are on five and a half tons of concrete. They are cumbersome and fragile, and difficult to install, and because like most of Banksy’s public works they are not formally authenticated, it is very difficult to resell them on the secondary market in the way that you can sell his prints. If we hadn’t come along, I don’t think they’d have survived.”
Has the gallery in fact rescued these pieces? I think if the moral high ground taken by the gallery is that they’re saving the pieces, then put them in a museum. Though that would still have them removed from their original setting, they would at least be available to the public.
I don’t know what the right answer is. What do you think?