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Banksy, Out of Bed Rat, Los Angeles, 2002
Banksy, Out of Bed Rat, Los Angeles, 2002


Aug. 30, 2011

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Banksy fans are up in arms about a new exhibition of two works by the street artist that were literally cut out of the cinder block and stone walls of the Palestinian Territory. The two works are Wet Dog, a Richard Hambleton-style image in white of a wet dog shaking its fur dry, and Stop and Search, a life-sized stencil painting of a girl in a pink dress patting down a soldier.

A video of the entire process, recently posted to YouTube, shows the two pieces of wall being crated and shipped to London, crediting Keszler Gallery, which has spaces in Southampton and on Madison Avenue, in association with Bankrobber, a Street Art gallery in Notting Hill, London. Keszler has since put the Banksy works on exhibition at the Southampton Village Power Plant in a show that opened on Aug. 20, 2011. The exhibition is billed as “unique street works and prints acquired from their original locations in Bethlehem, Brighton, London and Los Angeles.”

The online debate about the propriety of the move began on the Facebook page of the popular Street Art-oriented webzine Arrested Motion. It should come as no surprise that Street Artists do not typically embrace the idea of art dealers removing their works from public view for later gallery exhibition and sale; in fact, Banksy is on record himself as discouraging this very kind of behavior. In this case, it remains unclear whether Banksy approved of the removal or not.

At any rate, the Arrested Motion community quickly condemned the two galleries for sending excavators to Bethlehem to carve out the Banksy stencils, which were made during the artist's popular 2007 "Santa's Ghetto" event.

“I am sure that his work was meant to remain in place,” wrote one Facebook commenter. “Out of context, it does not have the same humor and significance. The work was stolen from the people of Palestine and that should be considered a crime and not allowed to leave the country.”

A more cynical observer suggested that the whole thing is a publicity stunt that’s getting “exactly the reaction” Banksy wants. Still others question the authenticity of the works.

On the other hand, the walls of Palestine have plenty of graffiti, most of it homegrown. So it could be argued that the art elite of the Hamptons has a greater need to see these works than their original constituency. Banksy's auction record is $1.9 million, set at a charity sale in New York in 2008.

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