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The pitfalls of authenticating Banksy murals came into focus again last month when it was revealed that the second alleged work by Banksy to hit the streets of Liverpool in the space of three weeks was, in fact, falsely attributed.
Fans and prospective buyers turn to Banksy’s official website (banksy.co.uk) for photographic evidence of murals, and the second work in Liverpool does not appear online. However, the artist neither officially sanctions his murals online, nor signs the actual street works for fear of legal repercussions.
Pest Control, the body that has authenticated Banksy’s gallery works since 2008, states online that it “only deals with legitimate works of art and has no involvement with any kind of illegal activity”. Subsequently, the independent New York-based organisation Vermin was set up to provide certification of Banksy’s outdoor works, although Vermin’s website now appears to be defunct.
As well as the legality of painting in the street, the question of ownership is difficult. Usually, the owner of a building with a Banksy mural owns the work de facto, and so can consign it for sale (although without official authentication from the artist). It is more complicated if, for example, a local authority owns the property or the building has been abandoned, as was the case with a Banksy mural cut from a derelict site in Detroit in May 2010, and due to go on show in the city next month after a lengthy legal dispute over ownership. Artists from the non-profit space 555 Galleries and Studios removed the work from an abandoned car plant owned by Bioresource Inc, a technology company which filed a lawsuit requesting that the 8ft section of wall be returned. The case was settled last September after the gallery paid $2,500 to Bioresource. The mural, which Bioresource argued could be worth more than $100,000, is not for sale, says a gallery spokesman. It is scheduled to be permanently displayed in a 7,000 sq. ft former police station that the gallery is renovating.