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Who Does Banksy's Stolen Drinker Sculpture Belong To?

  • Banksy’s sculpture on its original site near Shaftesbury Avenue, London
November 18, 2019
A philosophy graduate interested in critical theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

The life of Banksy’s bronze statue The Drinker, which was first installed in 2004 on a small square in central London, has been eventful, to say the least. Soon after it was installed, it was stolen from a public exhibition by the rebellious art group Art Kieda and its leader Andy Link, who also goes by the name AK47, asked for the ransom of around £5,000—or an original canvas—“to cover costs”.

The Drinker was supposed to be the centerpiece of a contemporary art auction at Sotheby’s this November, with an estimated sale price of £750,000 to £1 million. In an amazing turn of events, Andy Link claims the work was stolen from his garden in 2007, now claiming ownership for it. However, Steve Lazarides, Banksy’s former dealer, says otherwise. In the end, the work was withdrawn from the November 19 sale.

Banksy The Drinker
Banksy – The Drinker, 2004. Mixed media sculpture, 220 x 130 x 155 cm (86 3/4 x 51 1/8 x 61 in). Work to be offered in Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated auction on November 19, 2019

The Drinker

Installed on a small public square in Soho without planning permission, like almost all Banksy‘s public workThe Drinker is a subversive nod to Rodin‘s The Thinker. However, instead of showing a man lost in thought with his chin resting on his hand, it shows one that appears collapsed in a drunken slump, with a traffic cone on his head.

Described as one of Banksy’s most ambitious sculptural endeavors to date, this humorous relic of the previous night’s antics brims with the aesthetic tension and visual impact of street art. Indeed, alongside Girl with BallonThe Drinker ranks amongst the most iconic, and infamous, works from Banksy’s provocative oeuvre.

The original site of Banksy's The Drinker near Shaftesbury Avenue, London
The original site of Banksy’s The Drinker near Shaftesbury Avenue, London. Image via Steve Lazarides

The Kidnapping Saga

A year after kidnapping the piece from its plinth, AK47 registered his “find” with police, and contacted Banksy for a ransom, with the media coverage of the fraud going international. When Banksy offered “£2 towards a can of petrol” to set the piece on fire,  Link decided to keep it in his garden.

Two years later, the piece was mysteriously “liberated” from Link in an anonymous heist which left AK47 with nothing but the abandoned traffic cone from atop The Drinker’s head. He went to the police to report the theft.

Meanwhile, the certificate for the piece was produced in 2008, and the work, now adorned with a new traffic cone, was later acquired by its present owner in 2014.

In 2015, Art Kieda produced an imitation of Banksy’s sculpture, adding a number of sardonic objects and titling it The Stinker. The piece was even the subject of a 2016 documentary titled The Banksy Job.

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@banksy The Drinker seems to be getting AirPlay today. The dickhead who thought he “owned” it after stealing it and then got terribly up set when it was liberated again. Asshole. It’s like a drug dealer going to the police to complain that other dealers had knocked over the stash over. Even more hysterical is a bloke whose supposedly anti establishment blah blah blah, is running to the police because “ he’s a working class boy and the lawyers want paying to chase a non stater for him therefore the police should be all over it”. Mate I’d suggest you grow a pair and stop crying to mummy. I find it funny that the full Drinker escapade is in the book. Of course I may we’ll have made it all up!#lazaridesphotography #banksy#banksybristol #thedrinker

A post shared by Steve Lazarides (@stevelazarides) on

The Auction Controversies

After the piece resurfaced this autumn in the Sotheby’s auction catalog, Sotheby’s explained that they consulted both the Metropolitan Police and the Art Loss Register, concluding that the owner had a legal right to put it up for auction. However, Link is trying to claim ownership, explaining that he had registered it with police after he kidnapped it and Banksy had not asked for it back. As he cannot afford legal actions to challenge the sale, he called out the police to look into this.

On the other hand, Banksy’s former dealer Steve Lazarides, who sold the piece to the current owner, says Link’s claims to ownership are unfounded. “It’s like crying that the bigger boys have stolen his ball,” he says. Lazarides described how Banksy was “livid” about the ransom. According to Lazarides, they have learned about the sculpture’s whereabouts after one man “had been filling his boots with a young lady and had spotted it out of the bedroom window” and the work was soon “liberated” while Link was away. Soon after, as he explained, a deal was then struck between him, Banksy and “the London crew” over ownership, and Lazarides agreed to store the work until it was sold to the current owner in 2014.

On November 19, Sotheby’s withdrew the lot, expected to fetch £1 million, from the sale, “in agreement with the consignor”.

What does the future hold for The Drinker? At this stage, we can only wait and see.

Featured image: Banksy’s sculpture on its original site near Shaftesbury Avenue, London. Image via The Guardian.