The irony would not be lost on Banksy. A mural he painted for the public in the centre of Margate on Valentine’s Day is now being sold back to the public for £120 a share.
Titled Valentine’s Day Mascara, the mural originally showed a woman in a 50s-style gingham checked dress with a swollen, bruised eye appearing to have disposed of her abusive husband inside a large chest freezer—his legs sticking out of the kitchen appliance.
A powerful comment on domestic violence, the freezer, which was in front of the mural, was removed twice just days after the work was discovered in February—once by Thanet Council and once by Red Eight Gallery in London, which is now brokering the deal between the owner of the townhouse property where the mural was painted, and Showpiece, an online marketplace that is selling fractions of the work to the public.
Valued at £6m by Robin Barton of Bankrobber gallery, who has experience in dealing in Banksy’s murals, Valentine’s Day Mascara goes on sale on 22 August. A total of 27,000 shares worth £120 each will be available across multiple drops.
The plan is for the work to remain on show for at least 24 months at Dreamland Margate, where it has been on temporary view since June.
Julian Usher, the chief executive of Red Eight Gallery, says he got the call from the owner of the building the day the mural was discovered on 14 February asking for his help. He then spent the next two months sourcing a building contractor—via the tradespeople website Checkatrade—a fabricator, a structural engineer and an art conservationist. The work was finally removed at the end of April, with costs including insurance totalling £195,000.
Usher says he approached Turner Contemporary about housing the mural but it declined due to time constraints. The museum put Usher in touch with Dreamland Margate and an agreement was reached to keep the work on show at the Kent town amusement park for at least 12 months, as per the owner’s wishes.
Usher continued to search for a buyer for the mural, which—like the majority of Banksy’s outdoor works—has not been authenticated by the artist’s studio Pest Control. “The lack of authentication means we can’t take it to an auction house,” he says. “There is a grey secondary market for these pieces,” he adds, “but in the current financial market, those people are just not there”. In the past, Usher says, there was a market in Russia for Banksy’s murals but that has bottomed out since the invasion of Ukraine last year.
The dealer says he has fielded some offers, but not at the £6m mark. He notes that, even without authentication from Pest Control, Banksy’s murals have fetched between £2m and £4m on the private market. “Realistically, we are looking to achieve between £1m and £1.5m,” he says.
The idea to fractionalise the mural and sell it to a mass market was the logical solution, Usher believes. The mural now has its own company: Banksy VDM, where the shares will be held. Showpiece has agreed to donate some of the proceeds of the sales to the UK domestic violence charity Refuge, while the owner of the mural has pledged a six-figure sum to the Margate charity Oasis, which supports families to escape and heal from domestic abuse in East Kent.
Usher recognises that the sale is something of a gamble. As he puts it: “We’re in a slightly unusual world, this has never been done before. It could be a complete flop, it might sell out in three weeks.”
The dealer also acknowledges the irony of selling the mural back to the public—though, he says, by fractionalising the work it enables it to be kept in Margate. “Hopefully it will remain an attraction for people to visit Margate, so it will contribute to the local economy. In the end, this will become an art installation as opposed to a piece of graffiti that is weathered and destroyed over time.”