This article is taken from Paul Howcroft’s blog Art Law London.
The Banksy “street art” hacked off a wall in Wood Green, North London is back in the press. The piece, now known as “Slave Labour”, depicts a Third World child working over a sewing machine making Union Jack bunting.
A few months ago it surfaced in Miami, where it was due to be auctioned. In the face of furore and protests from the bereft street art loving people of Wood Green, the piece was withdrawn from the auction. Now it has returned to London, to be displayed, not far from my office, at the Film Museum in the old flower cellars in Covent Garden, where it is due to be auctioned on 2 June.
The brave organisers are a concierge business called The Sincura Group. A statement on their website says:
“The Sincura Group do not condone any acts of wanton vandalism or other illegal activity, however after carrying out extensive due diligence with regard the works provenance and ownership we are entirely satisfied that the mural was legally salvaged and that its current owners and its representative are acting in good faith by consigning the piece to us to act as the centrepiece of our forthcoming art show ‘Banksy at the Flower Cellars’.”
It would be very interesting to have the details of the “provenance and ownership”, but even if the purchaser is also “entirely satisfied”, he will be taking a risk in buying Banksy street art. I happened to advise a client last week who had bought a piece of street art attributed to Banksy and who had applied for an authentication certificate from Banksy’s certification body, which is called Pest Control. In response they explained: “We do not authenticate street pieces [as distinct from prints and canvasses] because they were not created as commercial works of art”. According to its website: “Pest Control deals only with legitimate works of art and has no involvement with any kind of illegal activity”. So clearly Banksy is not going to be helpful in establishing that he created Slave Labour, and he might at any time deny it or cast doubt on it.
Paul Howcroft, Partner, Fladgate LLP (firstname.lastname@example.org)