Who profits from street art? The artist or whoever sells it?

Tuesday, 5 March, 2013

An mural by UK street artist Banksy, that had been residing on the side of a building in North London, was recently extracted from the wall, and listed for auction in the US. The work is expected to sell for around US$500,000 but I doubt that Banksy will see a single cent of whatever proceeds the artwork realises.

The incident raises the question though of who owns, and therefore profits, from artworks that are created, illegally to boot, on private property.

The piece in question is titled “Slave Labour,” and first appeared on the side of a discount store in North London in May 2012. CNN reports that many residents grew quite fond of the piece and the attention it gave the neighborhood. Unfortunately for those residents, the piece was abruptly cut out of the wall last week. News soon emerged that the owner of the building had ordered the extraction in order to “preserve” the work. Well, “preserve” is apparently synonymous with “profit off” in the owner’s mind: “Slave Labour” has turned up in the catalog of an auction house in Miami, and will be sold this Saturday in the “Modern, Contemporary and Street Art” collection for an estimated $500,000 to $700,000.

It seems amazing to me, by the way, that given the degree of surveillance in public places, where much of Banksy’s work appears, that his, or her, identity still remains a mystery, even if some people feel they know who the elusive artist is.

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