The Keszler Gallery in the Hamptons, New York are exhibiting two Banksy murals removed from Bethlehem in 2007, at an Art Basel Miami Beach satellite fair next week. The works make up a larger show of Street Art by the Bristol born artist and include the iconic Kissing Policemen mural which was sold last year. Out of Bed Rat, 2002, originally painted in Los Angeles, will also feature in the “Banksy Out of Context” exhibition (5-9 December), It is being mounted by Stephan Keszler, the owner of the eponymous gallery, and Robin Barton, the owner of London’s Bankrobber Gallery.
The exhibition is under pressure for dealing in looted cultural works. The case centers around two murals originally stenciled in Palestine and removed with or without permission from the context of their original execution, by middlemen the London based Bankrobber Gallery . This practice is morally unacceptable to many and galleries, collectors and auction houses should reject these vandalised works. The murals are certified by Pest Control, Banksy’s authentication board but not officially authenticated. Pest Control, the body that authenticates Banksy’s gallery works, does not authenticate murals. “Works that have been removed from their original locations are never authenticated by the board”, who disapprove of this practice. In 2010, Barton and Keszler paid £24,000 to transport the murals, which together weigh nearly six tonnes, across the border to Israel and then on to Britain, where they spent around £34,000 on restoring and framing them. The dealers paid a further £24,000 to ship the works to New York.
This is an amoral cultural crime that needs to be publicised. Anyone purchasing these dubious works should be ostracised or at least held morally responsible along with the galleries selling them and the people who removed them in the first place. The murals are part of the cultural landscape and the location and context is very much a part of the concept behind the Banksy installations. A lot of thought has gone into choosing the location for the murals and they should be preserved in-situ for everyone. Pest Control has said that they spoke to the Keszler Gallery owner, Stephan Keszler voicing their concerns, but he was unapologetic: “We did warn Mr. Keszler of the consequences of selling expensive artworks without authentication but he didn’t seem to care. It’s like selling a car without proof of ownership.”
The mural “Wet Dog”, originally appeared on a bus stop and “Stop and Search” appeared on the wall of a butcher shop in Palestine. This now calls into question whether a license for export should have been issued by the disorganised West Bank authorities. They are now among the works for sale at the Keszler Gallery in New York. The harvested pieces were exported from the Middle East with the help of a Palestinian entrepreneur who is thought to have originally removed the paintings. They are on sale for $500,000 each.