Buyers Back Out of Banksy/Housing Works Auction in Suitable Metaphor for Artist’s Overhyped Residency

The banality of Banksy.

The banality of Banksy.

Now that both Halloween and his residency is over, how can the unwashed masses continue to annoy art snobs with their uncultured and slack-jawed interest in Banksy? Is there a way to keep the discussion of Britain’s most overhyped street subversive going until the very last collector, gallery owner and unemployed Art History major  in Chelsea commits collective seppuku?

Oh, here’s something: Remember that K. Sager landscape that Banksy bought from Housing Works? The one that he modified with a little Nazi sitting in the foreground, and re-donated to the nonprofit with the title “The banality of the banality of evil?” The one that was auctioned off at $615,000  at the end of October? Well, the mystery buyer just dropped out.


Talking Points Memo and The New York Times revealed on Friday that Housing Works had contacted at least two other private buyers who submitted top dollar bids, claiming that “Banality”  had become available for their highest offer after the original winner, going by the moniker gorpetri, shirked on the deal. (Apparently at the last minute…the item was being prepared to ship out last we checked.) From TPM:

“I get an email saying basically the bidder has canceled and to call him right away,” (Will) Emling said.

He then spoke by phone to (Housing Work’s chief officer Matthew) Bernardo, who he said told him the first bidder to make an offer and wire the funds would walk away with the one-of-a-kind Banksy. But Emling had reservations about the painting in light of the news and ultimately decided to walk away.

Mr. Emling’s wariness also involved some last-minute finagling:

 Suspecting gorpetri had backed out because of authentication issues, Mr. Emling asked for proof the painting was by Banksy. He was told that Banksy would mail him the certificate after the sale.  He was also told time was of the essence, and said he felt pressured to make the decision swiftly.

“It’s just odd to be told I have 24 hours to wire any amount and first person that does gets the painting,” Mr. Emling said in an email.

that the winner of the auction, “gorpetri,” had defaulted on his bid in early November, leading Housing Works to reach out with at least two other private buyers who had tried to purchase the painting during the original auction. Rachel Hirschfeld, an art collector, received a similar offer when a representative from Housing Works called to inform her that she had “won” the piece, long after the auction was over.

“She said, ‘You win the Banksy,’ ” Ms. Hirschfeld recalled. “I said, ‘Why? Somebody bid more than me.’ She said, ‘He’s out.’ ”

But Ms. Hirschfeld didn’t think it fair to have to pay the full price, if gorpetri’s offers were not genuine. “Every bid that he made has to be out,” she said.

What’s truly odd about this story is that its not the paintings authenticity that’s up for debate–Banksy has officinally acknowledged it as his work–but the principle of the thing. The original story of “Banality” had the mysterious artist anonymously buying the landscape from Housing Work for $50 and then returning it to the organization that helps the homeless and people with H.I.V. and AIDS with his additions turning it from a piece of junk to a piece of $$$Art$$$. A modern day Robin Hood: stealing from the rich (who would pay that much for a little Nazi man?) and giving it to the poor! But Mr. Emling  now believes that the whole story was manufactured as a publicity stunt by Banksy and Housing Works, who may have known ahead of time to whom they sold the original Sager.

“They were in on it all along. They knew. Actually, Banksy’s people actually contacted them saying, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a landscape piece, we want to paint a monster on it,'” Emling said.

But Mr. Bernado denied this, saying it was “the complaints of other bidders amounted to sour grapes.” Ms. Hirschfield echoed Mr. Emling’s dis-ease over Housing Works’s high-pressure selling technique, saying that after she faxed them an offer at their request, they told her the painting had already been sold.

“I think they used my fax to bid that person higher,” she said. “I felt very used.”

“Banality” has been sold off once again, according to Housing Works, to yet another private buyer. It remains a piece of over-priced piece of pop art…albeit one going to a great cause.

Buyers Back Out of Banksy/Housing Works Auction in Suitable Metaphor for Artist’s Overhyped Residency