On Thursday 20 February the Independent posted an article explaining how Banksy murals are removed from the buildings they are sprayed onto before being sold, lucratively, at auction.
It is, it turns out, quite a painstaking operation, and the article presumably wasn’t meant as an invitation to try it yourself. Still, the very next day, somebody in New Orleans had a crack at it. Screening off the area around Umbrella Girl, a man reportedly began to remove the iconic graffiti artwork, claiming to passers-by that it was needed for a museum exhibition. But he was unable to provide any further details when challenged. The building owner called the police, and by late afternoon the man had left, leaving the graffiti in place.
Banksy artworks sell for extremely high prices at auction, and several of his wall paintings have been duly extracted and offered up to the highest bidder. Just last week, Kissing Coppers (2004) – which was removed from the Prince Albert pub in Brighton, UK – fetched $575,000 in the US.
Critics have argued that moving these works destroys their intrinsic, site-specific value. When Kissing Coppers was removed, a copy was installed in its place to make amends. But the public, along with Banksy, knows what’s in a name. Katy Barrett wrote about his stunt last year, in which original works on paper were sold without fanfare for $60 each on a street stand in New York. Hardly anybody bought them, presumably believing them to be imitations.
The Sincura Group, which was the subject of the Independent article and has been behind several high-profile Banksy removals, bizarrely describes their work as ‘salvage’. That suggests the murals have somehow gone astray, and need recovering. When it takes weeks and teams of assistants to safely extract one (certainly more than one hopeful, hapless opportunist), it seems likely the Umbrella Girl is actually quite at home, and designed to stay put.
Better out than in? (Katy Barrett)