A Banksy mural in Nottingham, a girl hula-hooping with a bicycle tire which appeared on the side of a building in Rothesay Avenue in October 2020, has been removed and sold to an Essex art gallery. The mural has been bought by Brandler Galleries in Brentwood from the building’s owner for a six-figure sum. The gallery owner, John Brandler, who has collected a number of Banksy’s pieces, said he planned to display the hula-hoop mural in an exhibition at Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, later this year. As he told the BBC, he had hired a "very specialized company" with experience moving Banksy’s work to cut through the brick wall to extricate the work of art.
The removal of the mural disappointed locals who had hoped it would stay in the city. One person tweeted that they're "sad that the Banksy in Nottingham is not going to stay in Nottingham, it was put there for a reason." Simon Bristow, of the Nottingham Project city rejuvenation board, said for the Guardian that the mural was great for the city.
It arrived in the midst of Covid when we were all going through a really terrible time, and there was just this brilliant moment of enjoyment, and joy and delight. But sadly it’s now in the hands of someone else.
It has been known that Banksy pieces have been driving up property values when they appear, and his work in the streets has been known to attract thieves. The removal of the mural sparks the seemingly never-ending conversation on whether art should be removed from the streets, even if for the sake of preserving it or putting in it a museum.
The Banksy mural in Nottingham appeared on October 13th, 2020 and was soon claimed by the artist via his Instagram page. Created outside a beauty salon, it shows a girl hula-hooping with a bicycle tire next to a tied-up bicycle that is missing its back wheel. Amid speculation over whether the piece was a Banksy, a screen was fitted to it, which was soon after sprayed with graffiti.
After Banksy confirmed the authorship, the mural began attracting people of all ages, backgrounds and parts of the city, with a constant stream of people queuing to take a picture with the artwork. Banksy expert Prof Paul Gough, from Arts University Bournemouth, pointed out at the time that the last few pieces by the artist have all related to Covid or something in the news. "This is much more whimsical and much more of the moment. It is someone enjoying themselves," he said. He added that the message might be, "we are in difficult times, let's try to make the most of it and get some fun out of something which is broken." As he explained, the hoop is holistic, positive and life-affirming. He also said that this piece is different than his earlier ones, with "less fluidity and a more pixelated effect, especially around the chin and parts of the face."
A spokesman from Nottingham City Council suggested the piece was a reference to Nottingham’s history as a bicycle manufacturer, with the bike brand Raleigh established in the city in 1887. As he explained, the factory was famous for "its role in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the novel by local author Alan Sillitoe and iconic 1960 film starring Albert Finney."
After around a month and a half, a bicycle with a missing wheel accompanying a mural has vanished. It appeared to have been stolen, but the council later confirmed that it had been removed by The Nottingham Project, an organization aiming to “rejuvenate” the city which was working with the council and the owner of the building the mural was painted on, and taken away "for safekeeping". A replacement Raleigh Outland mountain bike, missing its rear wheel, had been put in its place by Kyle Myatt, a local food delivery rider. He told the BBC he had bought the replacement for £20 after seeing the original bike had gone, with an idea to make people happier.
At the time when the mural was made, the city was struggling with one of the highest Covid infection rates in the UK, and - as one resident put it - "we needed something like this". After the work was cut from the side of the salon in the early hours of Wednesday, it prompted sadness and frustration in the city as residents felt it has been taken from them.
Ian Clayton, an engineer from Wollaton, told BBC he was disappointed something "unique" had been taken away, as it was "something Nottingham could be proud of." "I don't think anyone comes out of it well," he added, "the guy that bought it, the people that sold it, the council that do not seem to have realised what they had."
Similarly, Laura Rodgers from Hyson Green described the act as absolutely disgusting, adding that "this art was for the people of Nottingham." "It's not meant for an art gallery, it's meant for the street. It should have stayed here," she continued. "It's like capitalism in tooth and claw. It was some recognition of an area that is poor, underprivileged. It meant a lot to people."
Nigel King from West Bridgford said that the mural was "rare piece of good news for the city in recent months and its been spirited away from us in the middle of night.""It's a reversal of Robin Hood," he added, "its been robbed from the people and given to the rich."
Brandler, the new owner of the mural who also purchased Seasons Greetings that the artist painted in the polluted city of Port Talbot in late 2018, has admitted being taken aback by the reaction from Nottingham, as he received around 30 mails from angry residents. As he put it, he has saved the work from the death sentence. "I am preserving it," he told BBC. "I am restoring it at vast expense - how many people complaining would put their hand in their pocket?" He also told Sky News that if he hadn't bought it, "in two years' time there wouldn't have been a Banksy there at all." As he explained, mold had started to form within the mural's plastic casing and that he's very pleased he was able to "save it from destruction." As he pointed out, Nottingham had a chance to buy it but didn't. He added:
Somebody told me it belongs to the people of Nottingham - no, it belonged to the person whose wall it was on.
Meanwhile, the owner of the building issued a statement saying that they tried to donate the work locally.
Unfortunately, despite substantial discussions with a number of local organisations, charities and national bodies over the past four months, none were able to commit to taking ownership of the art for various reasons. Once it was clear that we would be unable to gift it, we explored other options and have sold it to Brandler Galleries. Since we were unable to donate the artwork itself, we’ll be donating the proceeds privately instead.
In recent years we have been witnessing the development of a love affair between street art and real estate. At first considered as a sign of decay that lowers the property values, as soon as people started considering ‘gritty’ and ‘edgy’ cool, street art began generating interest to a piece of real estate. Murals by famous artists have long been known to raise property values for houses which sport them. The market value of the building in Chelsea sporting two Eduardo Kobra murals painted in 2012 has increased from $880,000 to $2,075,000.
When it comes to Banksy, whose market has been booming, his pieces had been known to even double the property value overnight of buildings sporting them. The house in Bristol where Banksy has painted a mural of a boy drawing a robot a few years ago has increased in value by £150,000 ($219,150). The owners of a house in Bristol, where the Banksy's previous piece, Achoo! has appeared, have decided to delay the sale of the property just a week before exchanging.
Unsurprisingly, given their potential value and public locations, have often been targeted by vandals or criminals. In January 2019, a hooded group used angle grinders to remove a piece from the Bataclan music hall in Paris which had been painted as a tribute to the victims of the 2015 terror attack at the venue. It was found in Italy at the beginning of 2020. Similarly, a wall mural spelling out "to advertise here call 0800 Banksy" was removed piece by piece from a wall in Brick Lane, London, in 2007.
Several pieces have been taken from their original walls by private sellers, often controversially. Several years ago, the Sincura Group removed the street pieces formally by Banksy from their original locations and subsequently organized the exhibition and auction. As they explained at the time, they only decided to do it after being approached by building owners to remove the artwork illegally painted on their premises.
As works first began to be ripped up from the streets, it opened interesting conversations - who has the right to sell public art? The removal and sale of such work is extremely controversial and not always successful, but, unfortunately, almost never illegal.
Once upon a time, street art used to be art made on the streets that belonged to everyone. Besides being public, street art is also ephemeral in nature. Once the piece is finished, it continues to live on its own on the street, where it could be defaced or destroyed. It is the risk every street artist takes when making a public work. Which poses the question: did Banksy's piece need "saving"?
The motive for those who sell Banksy's street art is usually profit, not altruism. In the past, the artist has forcefully denounced the sales, encouraging "people not to buy anything by anybody unless it was created for sale in the first place." Banksy's company Pest Control, reportedly told the Nottingham Project, the city’s rejuvenation board, that he wished that the bicycle artwork would remain in place.
After the mural was removed, it seems that something has been taken away - not just from the city - but from the artwork itself. The work was site-specific, responding to the bike on the lamp-post and the history of Nottingham. When removed from its context, the piece doesn't seem to say the same things anymore.
Featured image: Banksy - Hula Girl Nottingham. Image via banksy.co.uk.