'Stolen' Banksy removed from sale in Miami after North London campaign

The auction of a Banksy mural that was cynically chiselled off a wall in Wood Green before suddenly reappearing in a Miami auction catalogue was cancelled at the last minute following widespread condemnation and a grass roots campaign in London to prevent the sale.

‘Slave Labour’, an acidic comment on last year’s Jubilee and the wider schism between glitzy appearance and grim reality, was expected to fetch around $700,000.

Auctioneer Frederic Thut, the owner of the Fine Arts Auction Miami art house, who had refused to comment on the sale or the identity of the seller, and who has been subjected to a torrent of invective all week announced at the eleventh hour that the piece, along with a second work by Banksy had been withdrawn.

He did not go so far as to provide a reason but community leaders in Haringey, who led a vocal campaign to stop the sale were triumphant.

"One of our two demands was that it doesn't sell and the other was that we get it back again, so we're halfway there," said Alan Strickland, a Haringey councillor.

"I will be writing to the auction house as a matter of urgency to clarify what happened and what will happen next, but for now we are really pleased that because of the pressure and the strong views of the people of Wood Green, a community campaign in London has had an impact in the US. It's a real victory for the people."

The whole story is very murky, beginning in the legal grey area of removing a public work from a wall, claiming owenership, and then selling it. Speculation has been rife that the only people with any real legal claim that could have offered the artwork for sale so brazenly would have been the building’s owners – or indeed suggest conspiracy theories – Banksy himself.

The cultural debate surrounding the removal of a piece of free street art from its context and selling it for astronomical sums will continue to rage, but the distaste surrounding the auction was palpable. As for the irony of councils campaigning to save their graffiti - well that is another story.

It was a strange week for Banksy – after a hoax press release claimed that he had been arrested in London and his identity revealed. The web briefly lit up as the hoax went viral – and again – the origins of the prank – which was fairly transparent from the start – remain shrouded in mystery.

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