Where public opinions clash: guerrilla garbage?

It may seem unlikely. It may even seem somewhat absurd, but Haringey has found itself thrust into an important, international debate on the state of the arts.

It all started with the ‘theft’ of a piece of wall from Wood Green’s Poundland. Not just any piece of brick and mortar, though, this wall was special. This wall was, to some, a symbol of what sets the borough apart. This wall was iconic. This wall had a Banksy on it. The piece depicted a boy sewing jubilee bunting, a perfect mural for a borough with a ragtrade history. Local residents were outraged by its removal, and who would blame them? It seemed like a burglary. As though, overnight, some crook had ripped them off in the worst way, leaving just a vacant space like a smashed window. It defied reason too, after all, who’s stealing walls anyway, even valuable ones? Even the most afflicted kleptomaniac surely has to draw the line somewhere, and architecture seems as good a place as any.

After the dust began to settle, things became much clearer. One was that this was not the work of some deranged robber-baron, but commissioned by the owner of the wall itself, with every legal right to. Reports started to come in of an auction in Miami where the work was expected to fetch a sum well into the thousands. After much cajoling from this side of the Atlantic, the lot was withdrawn and sent back to London. Unfortunately, this reprieve was not to last, and a work that valuable couldn’t stay unsold for long. It ended up in another auction in Covent Garden this June where, according to reports, the section of wall sold for over a million pounds. What has remained a mystery about this whole endeavour is exactly when did Banksy or his brand of art become so prized? The self-styled guerrilla artist has, relatively quickly, gone from highly illegal pest, scourge of the Met’s graffiti removal team, to an anonymous but highly regarded art-world superstar. But his rise begs the question, where do we draw the line of what is acceptable as art? Has the ascension of one artist elevated the status of the culture, or do we still see street art as the province of criminal youth? Many dedicated street artists are now gaining a level of mainstream acclaim. Futura designs capsule collections. Shepard Fairey’s designs are everywhere, from snapback caps to campaign posters for Barack Obama. It seems fl ippant to attribute this solely to Banksy’s prominence, rather the ultimate fruition of a hard earned underground following. Both are talented artists and worthy of attention, more so than just being the next Banksy to exalt and commodify.

Problematically, government can’t seem to reach a consensus on this one. Of course, the council balks at the loss of a potential million pounds in revenue. Their offi cial policy, however, is to remove the public nuisance of graffi ti, no mention of sparing the critically well received. We have to wonder, by ‘buffing’ everything are we missing out on discovering vital new talents? What is defi nite is that a lack of foresight in the matter can cost big later on. Whether you see the art as valuable on its own merits or not, the fact is that an original Banksy is worth something. With very little effort and expense, Haringey could have put measures in place to protect the works. Not doing so has left borough residents poorer by two public artworks and with nothing to show for it.

At any rate it’s clear that street art is not going anywhere, and the influence of artists like Banksy persists, with new and varied additions popping up every day. The pictured work was found almost directly opposite Karamel at the start of this summer, and despite its fl imsy and essentially ephemeral nature, managed to survive a few days before succumbing to the elements. But, then, every street artist knows that, by necessity, their work is short lived. Except, of course, for Banksy…