There's a bit of an art world brouhaha unfolding right now, and, not surprisingly, Banksy is at its center. The controversy surrounds works created at the tail end of 2007, during a project called Bethlehem Santa's Ghetto in which the famed, anonymous graffiti artist left his mark upon several public surfaces in the West Bank.
The pieces — one, called Wet Dog, features the image of a dog shaking itself dry, the other, Stop and Search, features a little girl in a pink dress patting down a soldier — have now resurfaced far, far away from their original home in the Palestinian territories. They are on display, literal chunks of wall cut out of the sides of buildings and bus shelters, in a show called Banksy: Original Street Works at the Keszler Gallery in the Hamptons.
Banksy harvesting is certainly nothing new, but the scope of this effort, detailed exhaustively in this promotional video released by Keszler, is certainly unprecedented, as is the gallery's sheer brazenness in showing and selling these thought-provoking works that were so clearly meant for public consumption in an area of the world desperately in need of some thought-provocation. So what gives, exactly? Are these works even real? Was Banky, forever the provocateur, perhaps behind this entire endeavor? We approached Pest Control, Banksy's art world proxy, for some answers.
"The show certainly isn't sanctioned," a Banksy rep told Gawker. "We have no idea if these works are real or not as they are taken out of their original context, and we have not see them to be able to verify."
Pest Control had, in fact, reached out to Keszler Gallery owner Stephan Keszler (pictured above, right) with their concerns, but he was obstinate: "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 the pink slip."
Asked who they thought might have taken them, the Banksy rep replied, "We have no idea."
The answer to that isn't entirely simple. A report from artnet.com claims that in 2008, a group of Palestinian entrepreneurs had paid the owners of the original properties — a butcher shop for Stop and Search, and the city for Wet Dog, which was stenciled on a bus stop — to surgically remove them.
But the logistics of moving two-ton works across Middle East borders and into the types of countries wealthy enough to shell out exorbitant sums for them (Keszler is asking $450,000 and $425,000 for the works, respectively) proved insurmountable. They wound up sitting in a mason's yard for three years, until Keszler and London-based Bankrobber Gallery combined forces to track down the owners and purchase the works, then have them shipped to Israel, and from there on to England, where a fresco restoration specialist cleaned them. If that's so, then Keszler did not, in fact, cut these works out of Palestinian buildings and ship them back to the Hamptons to turn them into a hefty profit. He had someone else do it for him.
We asked Banksy to comment, but he was unavailable. [Photo via Getty]