Bored of Banksy Yet?


Words by Billie Jenkins Stencil Spy Booth by Banksy

When a 26ft replica of J Seward Johnson’s Forever Marilyn turned up in a Chinese landfill last week it reminded me of how wonderful those small, idiosyncratic interactions that occur between pieces of art and the real world can be. No artwork is an island. Whilst the image of an over-sized Monroe face down in a pile of junk offered something accidental but intriguing,  the world’s recent interaction with Banksy has been increasingly less interesting – reminding me a bit of that terrible 2005 Ikea sale where 6 people were hospitalised.

Withholding judgement on the work itself, Banksy can be kind of fun in the way he plays on this interaction with the public. There was the secret identity that was drawn out far longer than it needed to be. (Let’s be honest, if the Daily Express can track down Ronnie Biggs in South America before dial-up internet even existed they can surely track down one of best connected men in the art world.) Numerous times he has completed expensive commissions, only for them to be removed by cleaning teams perceiving them as vandalism. It is a further irony  some of these commissions come from boroughs that would scrub away his work prior to his famous status, and to this day remove the work of lesser known graffiti artists however talented. However, this week saw another, less playful instalment in the circus of Banksy.

It was reported by BBC news this week that Spy Booth, a work surrounding a Cheltenham phone booth not far from British Intelligence’s GCHQ, has been sold to a private collector. This is not unexceptional, it comes off the back of many Banksy works being displaced from their situation by those who own the building, or in a few cases by those who did not. In this case the work, which was installed 13th April, has been scaffolded over by the landlord and residents taking turns to protect the mural; which they fear will be taken.

It’s a strange scenario when you give it some thought. An anonymous artist chooses your walls to leave his mark, and the next few months of your life are spent in perpetual fear that random act will be undone by a vandal or a chancer taking it from you. The gains are huge though, the alleged fee for the work stands at £1,000,000, and all without stepping outside the realms of the law. I suppose what makes these scenarios fascinating each time they arise is the the degree of control people want to inflict on a situation which they had no relationship with prior to the first spray of paint. Then again maybe if the landlord doesn’t grab the opportunity then someone else will, and the theft will relegate it to the black market never to see the light of day again. I’ll save how much of a lose I feel that will be for another time though.

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