When an artwork by the famous street artist Banksy shredded itself just after it sold in October, it was a Phantom-of-the-Opera style reminder that the artist always seems to be in control. This could not be any farther from the truth, though, concerning a retrospective of Banksy’s works in Brussels.
In early November, 58 of Banksy’s most famous street artworks went on display in an old supermarket reimagined as a gallery in a ritzy part of Brussels. Just two weeks after the show’s November 8th opening, though, a Belgian court found the show to be a bit more unauthorised than everyone thought, seizing the works valued at over £12 million. The works were impounded after allegations were made that they were being held by the gallery illegally. Over the course of five hours, court bailiffs carefully removed each of the artworks and transported them to a secure location where they will remain until an upcoming court hearing in January. Titled ‘Banksy Unauthorised,’ the touring show’s name now seems cheekier than ever.
This is where things get a bit strange.
Strokar Inside, a non-profit urban arts organisation, agreed to have the show in their supermarket gallery and subsequently found themselves at the centre of the dispute. Storkar Inside’s lawyer Stanislas Eskenazi has defended his client stating the group was caught up in the middle of this ‘crazy story.’ The downright strange dispute ultimately pits Steve Lazarides, Banksy’s former manager, against an obscure German intermediary called On Entertainment, which – get this – specializes in selling meat.
On Entertainment is said to have offered the Banksy collection to Strokar Inside under the pretence that they were running the exhibition in Berlin and wanted to bring it to the Belgian capital. Storkar Inside then rented out their gallery to On Entertainment with the understanding that the German company had the right to display the artworks and the proper insurance.
It was then that lawyers from Mishcon de Reya, a Mayfair law firm, turned up on the gallery’s doorstep stating that the artworks were the property of Lazarides and were not authorised to be in Belgian. Mishcon de Reya then demanded the immediate return of the artworks. According to Eskenazi, his clients are ‘nice people’ and ‘have been shitting it’ since this dispute began.
After a week trying to smooth things over between Lazarides and On Entertainment, Strokar Inside went to the court to have the artworks seized until the dispute was settled. ‘When my clients didn’t get reassurance from On Entertainment that the art was insured, they just wanted to get out this situation,’ Eskenazi told the Guardian. ‘We also by then had discovered that the company had recently been involved in selling meat. It was very strange,’ continued the lawyer.
Banksy isn’t involved in the touring ‘Banksy Unauthorised’ exhibition – ‘unauthorised’ literally refers to the fact that Lazarides doesn’t have Banksy’s consent for the retrospective show – but he has labeled the exhibitions as ‘fake’ on his personal website. Though Banksy may not have the moral high ground when it comes to displaying art without permission, his ‘product recall’ goes on to state:
‘Members of the public should be aware there has been a recent spate of Banksy exhibitions none of which are consensual. They’ve been organised entirely without the artist’s knowledge or involvement. Please treat them accordingly.’