Exactly one week since his rebellious act of painting over the murals created over the course of twenty years, and one day since the opening of Banksy: Street Art & Co. exhibition he rebelled against, Blu is still in the spotlight in Bologna. But this time, it’s not about the works that have been taken down from the street walls to be shown into a museum - it’s about the ones that the artist took down himself, after being commissioned to paint them. In 2007, Blu was invited by the city’s neighbourhood of Savena to create a piece for one of the walls of a school in via Lombardia. While most of the other artworks he decided to destroy are regarded as the gift to the city, Blu was actually paid to execute this one, and those who commissioned him are now wondering: whose side is the law on in this particular case?
After the news broke on March 13th that Blu had gone about to remove all of his works painted in Bologna, the city officials went to inspect all of those sites. For the Savena mural, they also obtained the invoice issued to Blu by the neighbourhood authorities for his painting services, stating a paid sum of 1.440 euros, according to Corriere della Sera. The paperwork was then delivered to the city court, possibly turning this whole case into one for a judge and jury. Savena governor Virginia Gieri, who was also in charge of the neighbourhood in 2007, confirmed that they regularly paid Blu for the mural in question, and said that they have now hired a lawyer to inquire whether the artist had the right to remove an artwork he was commissioned to do. They expect to receive an answer from the municipality of Bologna in the next few days.
Ever since the first stroke of paint that Blu had used to cover his murals in Bologna, the audience in Italy and beyond got involved in many debates related to the meaning and purpose of street art today. Should a museum tear down entire walls to try and save a form of art that’s meant for the streets in first place? Should an artist deprive a community of his artworks? And then there’s the one that requires an answer the most: To whom does a street artwork belong? Had this been any other form of arts, the problem would have been much easier to resolve, but with street art, things get a little more complicated than that. While the author of painting may forever hold the rights to its intellectual property, there’s still the question of its physical existence. Once it ends up on the wall, is it then owned by the building owner? If it’s commissioned, do the ones who paid for it have the rights to it? As a gift to the people in the neighbourhood, can it be considered theirs?
At a time when street art is still fighting allegations of being vandalism and is simultaneously trying to stop art institutions from becoming a part of the game, it’s hard to ignore these few legal issues. We’ve reached out to Banksy: Street Art & Co. exhibition curator Christian Omodeo for a comment on the matter, and while we wait for his response, we can perhaps agree that the real purpose of street art - the one of all arts - got lost somewhere on the way. We can now only hope it’s temporary.
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Featured image: Blu mural on Scuola di Pace in Bologna. All images used for illustrative purposes only.