A Banksy artwork ripped from a wall in Folkestone and shipped to the US is to be returned to the seaside town after a lengthy legal battle, in the first example of a Banksy being returned to public ownership. A British judge ruled on Friday morning that the mural, titled Art Buff, was to be returned to the place where it was originally daubed by the elusive graffiti artist during the Folkestone Triennial last year.
The artwork, which depicts a woman looking at an empty plinth while listening to headphones, appeared overnight last September. It was verified by the elusive artist on his website, with the words: “Part of Folkestone Triennial. Sort of.” The piece attracted hundreds of visitors but just weeks after its appearance the owners of the amusement arcade on which it was painted chiselled it out of the wall and sent it to a gallery in New York – which valued it at almost half a million pounds. It was later sent to an art fair in Miami where it failed to sell.
The legal challenge to return the artwork to Kent was launched by Folkestone-based arts charity the Creative Foundation, with the financial backing of a benefactor, who felt that Art Buff belonged to the people of Folkestone and not to a wealthy collector. ...
The piece, he said, had been cut out under the supervision of art dealer Robin Barton who trades under the name of Bankrobber and specialises in Banksy pieces.While it's good to see that this piece of artwork has been saved, it is worrying that the fate of a piece of art should be made to hinge on something as arbitrary was whether the wall upon which it was painted was held by a leaseholder or by the freeholder.
After investigating the matter, lawyers acting for the Creative Foundation discovered that the Godden family, who had ordered the removal and sale of the Banksy, only owned the leasehold – not the freehold – of the arcade where Art Buff had been drawn. An injunction against selling the artwork was taken out in early 2015, and on Friday morning judge Richard Arnold ruled that the tenant had “no reasonable prospect of establishing that it was entitled, let alone obliged, to remove the mural” and ordered its return to Folkestone. ...
In the past Bansky has condemned the removal and private sale of his artworks as disgusting. In April last year 10 of Banksy’s most expensive murals, all of which had been removed from public spaces, were sold at auction in London for between £100,000 and £500,000 each.
Upton said he hoped the case, which was the first example of a Banksy being returned to public ownership, would inspire others in the future. “People should fight to keep these works in the public realm,” he said. “That’s how they came about and where they were intended to stay – not that I have any idea what Banksy’s intentions are.”