Hey now, hey now, my bunting’s back. Again.

12 05 2013



Banksy, ‘Slave Labour (Bunting Boy)’

So it appears Banksy’s troublesome wall mural will appear at auction yet again, having been withdrawn from sale in the US earlier in the year (if you’re curious, you can read more about that here) … and yet again, I ask – was Banksy involved in the ‘restoration’ of the previously absent bunting, and if not, will the auction house make note of their handiwork in their catalogue entry?

What do you reckon the odds are? Somewhere between Buckley’s and none I’ll wager.



Hey now, hey now, my bunting’s back! You can take it to the bank(sy)

21 02 2013

Banksy’s bunting boy soon after installation (image: Barcroft Media via dailymail.co.uk)

Alternatively, just take the Banksy. Either way, I think someone’s been taking some creative licence with the disappearing Banksy that has just reappeared on an auctioneer’s rostrum in Miami.

Fascinated as I am about the transformation of street art to commodity, I’ve written about Banksy and his compadres a number of times before… here, and here. So my attention was piqued when I heard about the chunk of wall removed in London’s Turnpike Lane and transported to Fine Art Auctions Miami (FAAM). Of course, the otherwise unremarkable concrete render was embellished with a 2012 Banksy, an artwork that now has a title: Slave Labor (Bunting Boy). Given the non-Anglicised spelling of ‘Labor’ (vs. ‘Labour’), I suspect the title was conjured up by the American auction house rather than bestowed upon the work of art by its British creator. It also has a lot number and an eye-wateringly high estimate – $500,000-700,000 – for its appearance at FAAM (link to catalogue entry… here).

But that’s not the end of the story.


Banksy’s bunting-less boy, still in London. (image: Tolga Akmen/LNP via dailymail.co.uk)

I notice that when it was installed, the stencil incorporated actual Union Jack bunting (see the image at the very top of the post). But according to an article in the Mail Online, soon after it appeared, someone nicked the bunting. And so it remained. Until very recently. Compare the photos. The one immediately above shows the stencil in situ in London after the bunting went AWOL. Note: no bunting. And the image below, from the FAAM catalogue? Oh, look! Bunting. Who was responsible for that? It seems highly unlikely that Banksy had anything to do with the ‘restoration’ of the work. If he was not consulted, which given his famous reluctance to even authenticate his works, seems unlikely to me, surely this represents fairly blatant disregard for his moral rights. Not that he would care too much, I wouldn’t imagine. But, really. Naughty, naughty. Whoever you are. Unless, of course, the auction house used a file image to illustrate the catalogue, which would also be very misleading. And it also means someone will need to whack in a string of bunting prior to the sale anyway to match the catalogue illustration.


Hey now, hey now, my bunting’s back! (Image via http://www.faamiami.com)

The stencil appeared in London in May 2012. General consensus was that it was a comment on the use of child labour (I remain a stickler for British spelling) in the production of memorabilia for QEII’s Diamond Jubilee. The choice of location was significant. The shop Banksy chose to grace with one of his stencils, Poundland, was at the centre of a scandal in recent years when it was revealed that children as young as seven worked in the Indian factory that produced some of the things being flogged in the store.

It probably shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that someone has decided it would be best transformed into cold, hard folding stuff, rather than enriching the community. The wall now…


Gone to the bank(sy). (image: Reuters, via theage.com.au)

Exit Via the Red Carpet: Will Banksy Turn Up at the Oscars Tonight?

27 02 2011

Direct from sell-out shows in litter strewn alleyways and shabby walls across the globe, heeeeerrree’s Banksy! The Academy are all aflutter about what to do with the street artist überstar, who may well be set to win the Oscar for best documentary for his/her hilarious film, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film won the Oscar for best editing – according to Slashfilm, this is a good indicator of a pending victory because all but one of the most recent best documentary films were successful in that category.

So what if he/she does win? The Academy declined Banksy’s request to appear at the awards wearing a monkey mask because they feared a deluge of copy-cat party crashers. Not to mention, who’s to say that the monkey in the mask who mounts the stage to accept the award if the film does win is actually Banksy? It’s probably too late now, but perhaps the Academy could collaborate with the artist to create a one-of-a-kind monkey mask so that Banksy could stand out from the crowd of would-be Banksys. Hilarious.

Works purporting to be by Banksy, and documented on the website, www.banksy.co.uk, have been appearing around LA in recent days, including the two shown here. Mickey and Minnie – living la vida loca in LA. Heh heh. As an aside, the fate of these stencils highlights everything that’s been said before about the commodification of this art form – ironically captured so effectively in Exit Through the Gift Shop. According to an account on Slashfilm, one of the stencils has been removed and sold on eBay (video of said removal is posted on YouTube), the billboard poster has been taken down and is to be displayed in Las Vegas, and the occupants of the building upon which the third has been painted are lobbying their landlords to clean the defaced stencil and protect and preserve it. This may just be the most effective Oscar’s campaign ever – the truth of the message conveyed by Banksy’s film enacted in the streets of LA.

All of this creative activity has been fuelling the frenzied speculation about whether or not he/she’ll attend. My guess? He’ll get Shepard Fairey or Mr Brainwash (whoever he may be!? One of the theories is that HE is Banksy) to collect it on his behalf. Let’s hope I’m wrong, and that he/she – or they, for that matter – does show up in one incarnation or another. Could be the one thing that saves the annual snooze-fest that is the Academy Awards ceremony.

(Pictures via http://www.banksy.co.uk)

To save, or not to save? Major Melbourne work by Keith Haring at risk. Again.

21 02 2011

In today’s Age, Thomas Dixon, who now chairs the Victorian Public Art Committee of the National Trust, and was the Chief Conservator at the NGV until his retirement in 2006, writes an impassioned plea for the preservation of the fast-deteriorating mural painted by American street artist, Keith Haring, located on the building that used to house Collingwood TAFE (pictured at left). It’s an imposing work of art, made all the more significant by the fact that Haring, who was out painting the subway stations and laneways of Manhattan when Banksy was but a glint in his (or her?) mother’s eye, died tragically early and a great bulk of his major work was exposed to the elements and has since disappeared or been damaged beyond repair. In terms of his corpus, the TAFE mural, which he painted during a visit to Melbourne in 1984, is very important indeed. In the British magazine, The Art Newspaper, it was described as ‘the last in the world painted entirely by his hand’.

Elsewhere I’ve pondered the question of preserving and documenting street art, including the debate for and against intervention in the case of Keith Haring’s mural (here, and here). In summary, it comes down to deciding whether or not the integrity and preservation of the art object (the mural) should outweigh the value we place on defending the artist’s intention. Haring painted the mural outdoors, exposed to the elements, and did so because its impermanence/transience and eventual deterioration was an important part of the work itself. If the work is preserved or repainted, the argument goes, it undermines the artist’s message. Anyways, after a heated debate in the mid 1990s, it was decided that the best path was to treat the mural in order to halt any further deterioration. According to Dixon, the periodic maintenance that was required to extend the artwork’s life was not undertaken, resulting in further damage. It’s estimated that it will cost about $25,000 to stabilise the work, with about $1,000 annually to maintain its condition. A pittance, Mr. Baillieu, surely? How about making this your first order of business as Victoria’s new Arts Minister?

Politicians aside, fear not! Direct from its salvation of Egypt from the clutches of dictatorship, the social media revolution has joined the fight! Yes – there is a Facebook page, Save the Keith Haring Mural’ with 5,334 members. Join the fight now!

As an aside, everyone seems to forget the (admittedly far more modest) Angel that Haring painted on the wall of Geelong Grammar’s Toorak campus. It was originally on the external wall of one of the Victorian-era school buildings, but after the redevelopment of the site the mural was enclosed in a central classroom in the Early Learning Centre (kindergarten, for the uninitiated). Thank the heavens on high that whoever was overseeing the renovations took it upon themselves to ensure the mural survived the extensive remodelling of the building. It is now preserved under a sheet of perspex, and is loved by teachers and children alike; a benevolent and gentle presence in a space filled by little people… and, yes, another in my long line of terrible phone photos, showing said angel, and some contributions from the kinder kids – reflections on the angel in their midst.

The room is known as ‘The Angel Room’. Not ‘Keith Haring’s Angel Room’, or ‘The Haring Room’. Just ‘The Angel Room’. It may be far removed from the artist’s vision, but in this context the artwork has assumed a new life and relevance to the people who live with it every day. It will endure in the minds of hundreds of little people, who grow into bigger people – many of who most probably don’t even know who painted the angel, or why it’s there. Which probably doesn’t really matter, one way or another. The Angel really has assumed a life of its own. When I’m feeling particularly sentimental, to me this seems to be a very good argument in favour of preserving works of art like this one.

I could be very wrong, but I like to think that Keith Haring would have approved.

(images: Keith Haring ‘Angel’, by me; Keith Haring, ‘Collingwood TAFE mural’, via ‘Save the Keith Haring Mural’ Facebook page)

Rats! Another Melbourne Banksy stencil bites the dust.

27 04 2010

The original parachuting rat by street artist Banksy, which - until recently - could be found in one of Melbourne's lanes. <em>Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones</em>Was there a council meeting somewhere to which I wasn’t invited at which it was decided that April should be designated ‘persecute Banksy’ day? If so, I heartily object, your Honour. ‘Twas almost exactly a year ago that Glastonbury Council made a colossal blunder and erased one of Banksy’s stencil works from an unsuspecting wall. And now, we’ve lost yet another of our Banksys (Banksy plural: Banksii? Banksys? Banksies?) – some time ago we mourned the demise of the much cherished ‘Little Diver’, which was submerged beneath a wash of silver paint by an street art iconoclast. And now, Parachuting Rat, formerly of Hosier Lane, just behind the Forum Theatre, has met its demise, scrubbed out by a well-intentioned council cleaning crew.

A couple of questions – where in the name of all that is holy can I get me some of that cleaning fluid? The only sure-fire cure for the tags that periodically appear on my front fence seems to be yet another layer of Dulux.

Another question – street art is by its very nature transient and mutable. Should we be surprised that this is its fate? In line with the artist’s intention (why else would he be making art in such exposed places?), wouldn’t it be best to simply let it disappear? Surely the prosaic demise of Little Diver and the airborne Rat is a crucial part of their lifecycle. They are conceived, made and distributed in such a way that they are guaranteed to have a limited shelf life. A bit like we frail human beings, really… see what he’s doing there? As you can see in the picture of the poor, late, lamented rat, a subsequent visitor to the wall had already made his mark. And so it is in the world of guerilla art. The owners of the wall on which Little Diver resided really sealed his fate by encasing him in a perspex sheet. That’s not what it’s meant to be about. It only becomes a problem once people start getting over-excited about an artist in the art market. Only then do we worry about preserving these gestures that were never really meant to last. Because they may be worth eleventy-bazillion dollars one day. I don’t hear anybody complaining about all the other things that were cleaned off Hosier Lane. Because they weren’t worth anything, cash-wise.

Oh, and to the denizens of the good city of Melbourne? You plan to “implement retrospective legal street art permits to ensure other famous or significant street artworks are protected”? Er – the point is that you won’t know it’s famous or significant until long after it’s made. By which time, at this rate, it will have been painted over or removed. Catch-22, I’m afraid.


(Image: Michael Clayton-Jones via The Age online)

“Please look after this bear. Thank you.”: Oops! Glastonbury council destroys Banksy’s Paddington Bear.

1 05 2009

Uh oh. Seems some overly zealous council workers have painted over one of Banksy’s Paddington Bear stencils in Glastonbury during an anti-graffiti blitz.

This wouldn’t be the first time one of Banksy’s works met such a fate. In Melbourne, we had a little Banksy of our own, ‘Little Diver’. The owners of the building whose wall the artist tackled with his spray-can covered said stencil with a sheet of perspex to protect and preserve it. But, in a perverse twist of fate, another, rather more prosaic, practitioner of wall defacement poured silver paint behind the sheet of perspex and scribbled ‘Banksy Woz Ere’ across the face of it.Image from Web. Showing a Banksy artwork. 131208.

Could this be the inevitable fate of much stencil art? I mean, it’s a curator’s worst nightmare… an artwork, exposed in a public space, indistinguishable for all intents and purposes from the colourful tags that surround it. Besides which, given that street art began as what amounts to a guerrilla movement, disseminated under cover of dark and anonymity, should it be left to its fate? Purists would probably argue yes. But that’s unlikely once the market gets its hands on it. Once an example of street art has a tangible financial value placed upon it, there’s no way it will be left to deteriorate and succumb to destructive environmental elements. This is exactly what happened here in Melbourne, where a massive mural painted by Keith Haring on an exterior wall of the Collingwood Technical School in 1984 has been listed with Heritage Victoria to ensure its preservation, despite much debate about the artist’s intention. Painting it in such an exposed location, Haring would have known that it would deteriorate over the years. Was that as important a facet of the artwork as its actual execution? Or would he have wished to see it restored and preserved? Impossible to say – Haring died in 1990.

Interesting conundrum, though. 

Image: Banksy ‘Little Diver’, before and after: ‘The Age’