When a mural by the famed street artist Banksy vanished from the side of a London building last year, locals banded together and waged an international campaign to find the work. When it surfaced at an auction house in Miami, they stopped it from being sold.
But now it seems their efforts may have been for naught. The mural recently re-emerged in the hands of a London company called Sincura Group, which specializes in concierge services and prides itself on "obtaining the unobtainable" for its clients. Sincura put the piece up for sale at a members-only auction Sunday night, amid a champagne reception and heavy security. The council of Haringey, the working-class borough where the mural first appeared, and the local Member of Parliament, tried to block the sale, but to no avail. The piece went to an unnamed buyer for $1.1-million.
The auction "is a sad fate for an artwork that brought enjoyment to the thousands of people walking up and down our high street every day," said Haringey councillor Alan Strickland, who has led the campaign to have the mural returned to the community. "The piece was a great source of local pride and residents remain very angry about its removal. We feel very strongly that the mural was given freely by Banksy to our area and should be on show in a street, not hidden away in a private art collection."
Titled Slave Labour, the work depicts a black-and-white picture of a boy hunched over a sewing machine making small brightly coloured Union Jacks. Haringey had been hard hit by rioting the summer before, and the drawing gave the area a bit of a boost, becoming so popular with visitors that the council put up signs to direct tourists to the building.
Sincura director Tony Baxter insisted the piece was legally sold and that the current owners were "acting in good faith." He held out hope that the buyer might donate it back to Haringey, but there was no indication of that Monday.
For Strickland and others, the sale marks the end of a sad saga that began a year ago when the small mural appeared on the side of a discount store. It vanished in February while the building was under renovation. That led to suspicions the building's owners removed it, but they have refused to comment, even to the council. When it showed up at Fine Art Auctions in Miami two days later, the council, community and local politicians put so much pressure on the auction house that it pulled the Banksy from an upcoming sale.
The council's efforts may have backfired by increasing interest in the mural and driving up its value. It was listed for sale in Miami at around $700,000, and at more than $1-million in London just two months later. There has been no comment from the reclusive Banksy, who has won international fame for his cheeky street art (one memorable image depicted the Mona Lisa wearing headphones and carrying a rocket launcher). But he has complained in the past about his art being removed and sold for $1-million or more.
Mr. Strickland said the sale is was "a real blow for street art more widely, as it risks setting a very dangerous precedent."