A mural by Banksy which divided the art world after being removed from a London street sold last night at a private event in London for more than 750,000 pounds ($1.1 million), according to the event organizers.
The 2012 spray painting “Slave Labour,” showing a boy making Union Jack bunting with a sewing machine, was being shown by the Sincura Group, a concierge company, at a members-only event in the basement of the London Film Museum in the Covent Garden area of the U.K. capital.
The work’s sale, earlier planned for an auction in Florida, enraged street art enthusiasts who argue that Banksy murals are gifts to communities and should remain in situ. Others point out that unsolicited graffiti becomes the property of the building owners, who are legally entitled to do what they want with them.
Prospective buyers had been invited to make offers for the painting of more than 900,000 pounds in a 3½-hour silent auction that closed at 9:30 p.m. Invitees sipped Taittinger champagne and listened to house music as they admired the newly-framed mural flanked by a pair of security guards.
At the end of the event, Sincura had received three bids of more than 750,000 pounds, the London-based dealer Robin Barton, who was representing the restored mural’s owners, said in an email. He is meeting the owners to evaluate the bids before making any further announcement, he said in a second e-mail.
The Banksy had been stenciled on the wall of a Poundland store in London. It was removed in February and reappeared in the Feb. 23 sale by Fine Art Auctions in Miami, estimated at $500,000 to $700,000. The lot was withdrawn at the last moment, following objections from Haringey Council and street-art fans.
Barton, whose Bankrobber dealership specializes in Banksy, said in an e-mail on May 30 that a U.S.-based collector had already offered to buy the painting for $1 million and that he expected it to sell for a higher price with Sincura.
“Our goal is to find a buyer who will keep it in the U.K.,” Tony Baxter, director of the Sincura Group, said in an interview before the sale. “We know the sale of this Banksy has caused great controversy. We’ve done our due diligence and there is no legal issue.” Baxter said he wouldn’t be charging any fees for the auction of the mural.
“Slave Labour,” satirizing Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, was being shown among a group of about 40 works by Banksy, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Mario Testino. Most of the pieces were lower-value prints, though a signed 2001 Testino photograph of Kate Moss, from an edition of three, was priced at 125,000 pounds.
Bristol-born Banksy is the world’s most famous and expensive urban artist. A canvas by him sold for a record $1.9 million at auction in February 2008. In that same year, he introduced an authentication service, Pest Control, intended to regulate the market for his paintings and street murals.
He hasn’t authenticated “Slave Labour,” in common with other works sprayed without permission in public places. While Banksy is a widely imitated artist, experts said the work is clearly his.
“None of the major auction houses will touch a Banksy street piece without his certification,” said Mike Snelle, director of the London-based urban art dealers, Black Rat Press. “This event was supposedly about trying to find a U.K. buyer to keep it in the country. I didn’t sense much of a community feeling behind this.”
The painting first appeared in the Wood Green area of north London. It was on a building is owned by Wood Green Investments, a property company registered at Woodford Green, Essex, according to the U.K. registry, Companies House. Its co-directors are named as Robert Alan Davis and Leslie Steven Gilbert, both based in Essex.
Barton said in an email that Davis and Gilbert owned the Banksy mural and that he had arranged its sale in London.
“These paintings do not need certification,” said Barton. “If one takes the view that Banksy has made a significant contribution to 21st-century art history, then this is best represented through his visceral street works, often created in the dead of night with the threat of arrest ever present. The stencil and sprayed canvas works are a poor imitation of the real thing.”
Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the art market, Martin Gayford on European art shows, Elin McCoy on wine and Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater.