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Is Sotherby’s about to sell a stolen Banksy Sculpture?

It’s funny what can happen when you start walking through metaphorical doors that present themselves. It all began with our devolved parliament article… which led to our mysterious Banksy article and now this… a story of an original Banksy sculpture, a dispute over ownership and a possible illegal auction at Sotherby’s that could be worth in excess of £1m.

On Tuesday 19th November 2019, Banksy’s ‘The Drinker’ sculpture goes up for auction at Sotherby’s in London. The estimate for this piece is £750,000 to £1,000,000 but with the recent ‘Devolved Parliament’ going for almost 5 times the estimate and ending up at almost £10,000,000, it’s anyone’s guess what this could sell for.

Banksy’s sculpture ‘The Drinker’ is at the centre of a dispute over ownership

So why are we talking about this?

Well it all began with a surprise phone call from the balaclava clad artist Mason Storm. He informed us of an intriguing story surrounding the sculpture and suggested we speak to another controversial artist Andy Link also known as AK47. He also encouraged us to watch a documentary called ‘The Banksy Job’. We did both.

So, let’s quickly run through the timeline of events that ‘The Banksy Job’ discusses.

This 2016 documentary follows the shenanigans of AK47 and his fellow group of artists/henchmen known as Art Kieda. In a nut shell, in 2004 a Banksy sculpture appears in London. ‘The Drinker’, is a fibreglass piece of drunk fun based on Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’. On Sotherby’s auction page regarding the piece they describe it as the following:

Counting among one of Banksy’s most ambitious sculptural endeavours to date, his iconic – and ironic – The Drinker was conceived in 2004, a defining moment in the career of Britain’s best-known, and most elusive, street artist. Bold and irreverent, the work offers a subversive recreation of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. Brimming with the aesthetic tension and visual impact of street art, Banksy’s brazen statue presents the figure of a man sitting on a rock; yet, rather than lost in thought as in Rodin’s masterpiece, Banksy’s figure is slumped in drunken stupor, a traffic cone perched precariously upon his head – a humorous relic, it would seem, of the previous night’s antics.  

excerpt taken from www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2019/contemporary-curated/banksy-the-drinker

‘The Banksy Job’ tells the story of how Andy and his team kidnap the sculpture and hold it to ransom for £5,000. Banksy allegedly counter offers £2 for a can of petrol to burn the piece, essentially washing his hands of it.

‘The Banksy Job’ tells the story of AK47 and the kidnapping of Banksy’s sculpture ‘The Drinker’.

The sculpture is then reported to the police as found by Andy. Like all reported items, if they aren’t claimed for by someone within 90 days the ownership is legally handed to the finder, in this case Andy Link.

This is where things get interesting

3 years later the Banksy sculpture is stolen from Link’s back garden. All that is left is the traffic cone. Link’s only conclusion is that Banksy had arranged for the sculpture to be retrieved. This was reported to the police.

The documentary goes on to show how AK47 and his team created another version known as The Stinker, but for the purpose of this story it’s not relevant.

What’s important is that fast forward 12 years the original sculpture resurfaces complete with new traffic cone and a certificate of authenticity from Pest Control, the go to place for all things Banksy.

The piece is being sold by Banksy’s ex-representative Steve Lazarides. Lazarides, who for many years was the spokesman and gallery rep for the elusive artist.

As you can imagine Andy Link is not a happy man. When we phoned him, he explained that he spoke to the police and they admitted there is a case number and record of the incident, but they aren’t pursuing the issue. He tried to seek legal help but was told if he doesn’t have a minimum of £18,000 for legal fees they won’t help.

A letter from Andy Link explaining the situation regarding the theft of Banksy’s ‘The Drinker’.

We also spoke to Mason Storm about the matter. As well as a talented and successful artist he is also a qualified Barrister.

He stated, “On the face of it, if the 90 days has passed then technically legal title should pass to him (Andy Link). The fact that he had it stolen and has a crime number etc could mean that the auction house (Sotherby’s) and Steve Lazarides are guilty of handling stolen goods especially as the whole tale is on their website… they are on very shaky ground”

Mason also pointed out, “Even though Andy took the sculpture in the first place, he didn’t actually do anything illegal. The sculpture was placed in London without any sanctions from County Council and therefore could be regarded as fly tipping. Andy essentially picked up some abandoned debris from the street”.

We have to agree. The whole thing seems very fishy. You could say it’s just a big case of karma that the sculpture was stolen back from someone who stole it in the first place, but as Mason rightly points out, the original was dropped in London illegally in the first place. To steal it from Andy’s back garden is a different thing entirely.

There seems to be many people in this story that appear to be turning a blind eye; the Police, Sotherby’s, Pest Control and of course Steve Lazarides.

Sotherby’s claim they have checked with Met Police and are happy it is not on any stolen register.

Although Sotherby’s claim they have checked with the Police, Andy has evidence to prove
the sculpture is in fact on record as stolen.

Is it a coincidence that a certificate of authenticity from Pest Control is attached? A company that Lazarides was involved with for many years? A company who claim they don’t provide certificates for street work?

Once again, when large sums of money are involved, it’s amazing how certain laws seem to be ignored.

At the very least, surely the auction should be put on hold until further investigations are carried out to see who the rightful owner really is.

UPDATE…

Since we wrote about this intriguing story, Sotherby’s removed the Banksy sculpture from their listings and the police are carrying out an investigation into the reported crime. Apparently it was removed by request of the consignor and not due to Link’s claims of ownership.

If you say so Sotherby’s… seems like a huge coincidence to us 🙂

As always we would love to know what your thoughts are. If you have time leave us a comment below…


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2 thoughts on “Is Sotherby’s about to sell a stolen Banksy Sculpture?

  1. The law favours the rich!
    Totally agree that the auction should be put on hold until either party can prove ownership!
    But reading between the lines ak47 owns this…

    1. Hi Charlotte,

      We are in total agreement with you, and it would appear that Sotherby’s are now in agreement too as the sculpture was pulled from the auction. Hopefully a full investigation will now be carried out.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment x

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