The fraught business of removing and selling street art murals
Published on CNN, 20th January 2020 (LINK)
Written by Christy Kuesel
This article was published in partnership with Artsy, the global platform for discovering and collecting art. The original article can be seen here.
Banksy is well known for creating murals in the dead of night, frequently addressing social ills like homelessness or poverty. Tourists and fans gather around each of his new creations, often spurred to the site by a post on the anonymous artist's Instagram account. So the idea of removing one of these works from public view and selling it is bound to stir up strong emotions.
"It's against the street art world for items that are done in public to be sold," said Darren Julien, founder and CEO of Julien's Auctions, which specializes in selling pop culture-related items and street art.
Many businesses tagged by a famous street artist may not want the attention, or would rather take the financial windfall that could result from selling the work. The owner of a Valero gas station in Los Angeles certainly benefited from Banksy's creation of "Flower Girl" (2008) on their wall. The work depicts a girl with a basket of flowers staring up into a security camera, and was created late one night in 2008.
Another street artist, Mr. Brainwash, asked the gas station owner if his friend could stencil something on the side of the wall. The work later appeared on Banksy's website. When the owner of the gas station decided to sell the property, he looked into ways to save the mural.
How Julien's Auctions actually got a nearly 8,000-pound hunk of concrete to auction, however, is a bit more complicated. The auction house advanced the seller the $80,000 removal cost, and a construction crew came in and removed the section of wall on which the mural was painted. The 2013 sale of "Flower Girl," which brought in $209,000, was one of the first times the street artist's work had been auctioned in the US.
Sales of street art murals in general are divisive. Artists often object to the transformation of a work they created for public enjoyment into an art object to be bought and sold. Although Julien acknowledged the controversy around selling Banksy murals, he argued, "The other side of it is that [auctions are] really what made them famous."