A decade ago, two of Banksy’s murals, originally painted in Bethlehem, went on show at Context art fair in Miami. Although apparently not for sale, the unauthenticated works were valued at around $450,000 each. (Compare that with a painting of the Peanuts cartoon character Charlie Brown, which Maddox Gallery reportedly sold this week for $4m to a US collector at Art Miami, and Galerie Thomas asking $3.85m for Girl with TV and Red Heart (2004) at Art Basel in Miami Beach.)
According to a book released this week in Miami by Robin Barton, one of the dealers behind their transportation, the murals Wet Dog and Stop and Search almost never made it the 8,750 miles to Miami. There was a “near-calamitous moment”, Robin Barton writes in Robin Bansky, when Wet Dog was being loaded onto a truck in Bethlehem but “slipped her leash in a last act of defiance […] and crashed to the ground in an explosion of doubt and debris”. The work survived unscathed.
In a rare admission of guilt, Barton recalls the moment he set eyes on the murals in Kent, England. He says: “It was the first time that I had any real sense of its author’s presence or purpose, these works created 3,000 miles away in the contested homeland of the Arab Palestinian people. The artist’s message of hope hijacked by my own selfish and avaricious intent.”
In 2012, another mural had been destined for Miami. Slave Labour had been hacked from a north London wall and its sale entrusted to Barton. His business partner negotiated its inclusion in an auction at Fine Art Auctions Miami, estimated at $500,000 to $700,000. However, following lobbying from the local council leader, hours before the sale the lot was withdrawn. The auction house’s director said he had been inundated with “abusive and threatening” calls from the UK.
There had been talk, Barton says, “of a private jet delivering the slave child to the exclusive Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport, or being chauffeured-in, down through Florida Keys in a blacked-out limousine”. In reality, it “had travelled just a paltry 67 miles, first around the busy M25, then pushing out into the Kent countryside along the M2 finally coming to rest at an isolated farm building”.