Unauthorised Banksy auction raises ethical questions

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The company behind a selling exhibition of the street artist’s work has cancelled a live auction to avoid “exposing” collectors

Only one work in the sale has been authenticated by the company that acts on behalf of Banksy:Silent Majority, 1998 (est £350,000)

The company behind the selling exhibition of Banksy murals that opened in London this week has cancelled its live auction of the works on 27 April, opting instead for an online sale and sealed bids. Tara Leers, the chief executive of the Sincura Group, an events firm that also removes and sells Banksy murals from their original locations on commission, told The Art Newspaper that it was advised against holding a live auction, which could “expose” collectors in the saleroom. “It’s about protecting collectors’ privacy,” Leers says.

The move reflects the controversy that the exhibition has courted. The day the show “Stealing Banksy?” opened at the ME Hotel in London on 24 April, Banksy posted a statement on his official website denouncing the event, which has been organised, he says, “without [his] involvement or consent”. Of the nine murals being sold, Pest Control, the company that acts on behalf of the artist, has authenticated only one: Silent Majority, 1998 (est £350,000). Banksy’s statement continues: “I think it’s disgusting people are allowed to go around displaying art on walls without getting permission”—possibly a tongue-in-cheek reference to his own clandestine artistic practice.

Nevertheless, the exhibition raises serious questions about the ethics of selling street art, which critics say should be left in situ to be enjoyed by local communities. In a statement released before the show, Tony Baxter, a director of the Sincura Group, says: “[We] do not steal art. To date we have made no financial gain from the sale of any street art.” In an interview earlier this year, Baxter told the BBC that the group would take “a small management fee” for the sale of the murals on 27 April “to cover costs”. The auction is expected to make more than £2m in total.

Leers says the company plays a key role in conserving Banksy’s murals, noting that No Ball Games, which was painted in Tottenham in north London in 2009 and controversially removed in 2013, took a team of six people nine months to restore, at a cost of £120,000. Leers would not comment on how costs are split, but says that the current owner “has invested a lot” in the restoration. The work is estimated to sell for between £500,000 and £1m, with profits going to a Tottenham charity.

Joe Epstein, who runs the LDN Graffiti blog and who designedThe Banksy Bugle, an unofficial newspaper that accompanies the exhibition, is more critical. “The ethical question is the biggest question,” he says. “It’s sad these murals are no longer in the street, but given the prices Banksy commands, perhaps it’s inevitable.”

No Ball Games is estimated to sell for between £500,000 and £1m, with profits going to a Tottenham charity

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