So, one of Banksy’s earliest works is to be sold to a gallery in New York. And blimey what a fuss it’s causing. The Kissing Coppers appeared on the wall of the Prince Albert pub in Brighton about 7 years ago and have been revered ever since. But now the pub landlord, the owner of one of the world’s most elusive artist’s signature pieces, is selling it, wall and all. And I don’t blame him.
He’s coining somewhere in the region of £750,000 for the work, and told the Guardian that all the money is going into keeping his business running. Funnily, the issue hasn’t been with this man’s significant personal profit. Instead locals have said that he is stealing from the people and streets of Brighton. Technically he isn’t. The landlord was approached by a Banksy aide and the work thus belongs to the pub and the publican. Sadly, most ‘public art’ in Britain doesn’t have much value, think about the ridiculous sculptures scattered around. That big bang bee thing in Manchester and The Bullring, that’s about it for the Brits. With the exception of Anthony Gormley’s Sefton beach men and the much loved Angel of the North there is nothing worth selling. Unfortunately, people (singular) own Art and people (plural) look at it. But in the case of this Banksy, it is a great shame that one of Britain’s only claims to public art fame is being shipped west.
However, the argument that Art should always remain in the place it was created is really rather pointless. Snide comments have appeared on web forums suggesting that the next thing to be sold to the Yank’s will be the Royal Pavilion. A rather tenuous comparison, but where works of Art are concerned it really doesn’t matter how far or near to its place of conception one is exhibited. I’ve seen a whole room of Emin’s in the Pompidou, Picasso’s in Sheffield and Giacometti’s in every gallery I’ve ever visited. And I’ve never thought when viewing a Tracy Emin, ‘this would be so much better in Margate’.
The appreciation of Art comes not from its relationship with its surroundings. Most of the excitement of visiting an art gallery comes from wondering what you’re going to come across inside and not the relationship it has with the city around it. Coming across the work of a Bristol artist in the middle of Berlin…I didn’t wish I was on the shores of the city, he’d brought them to Berlin anyway with his earthy and filthy ‘land art’.
Whilst I won’t deny that the context of an artist’s work is valuable to understanding why they worked the way they did, in the case of Banksy, it is less relevant. His canvas and studio are easily understandable and his work is symptomatic of today’s urban landscapes, he doesn’t limit his work to a city or country, and neither should we.