Bansky swiped from Wood Green and a second Mona Lisa

A weird week for art.

New Statesman
Banksy's artwork was placed under protective plexiglass (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s genuinely rather tragic to learn that a Banksy’s mural, known as Slave Labour (Bunting Boy), was removed last week from the facade of a Wood Green Poundland only to reappear at an online auction site with a $400,000 starting bid. The discount retailer have made it known via Twitter that they were not responsible for the sale or removal of the artwork.

Fine Arts Auction Miami, who specialize in the sale of modern and contemporary art, are hosting the sale via live auction on their website. The process is remarkably straightforward– register, browse, bid. I created a profile in under three minutes, with my name, address and a fabricated telephone number. And look, there’s the missing Banksy, with three bids, an estimated sale price of five to seven hundred thousand, and 101 Facebook likes. With just a few keyboard strokes– and massive chequebook – I could join the queue.

Ironically, the ease of the click-and-purchase auction house mirrors the quick gratification Bansky chides. The work appeared in May of 2012, just before the Queen’s Jubilee Weekend and three months shy of the Olympic opening ceremonies. A barefoot boy sews Union-Jack bunting on an old fashioned Singer – an image widely interpreted as critique of the year’s hyper-patriotic exploits. The flag is symbolic, the mural declares, but has its potency been diluted by consumer glut and cheap availability?

Residents of Wood Green were proud of their “political” gift. Kathleen Duffy, a local resident, wrote on blogger news site Wizzley:

[The boy in the mural] is somewhere in the developing world, in a sweat shop, working to produce the Jubilee bunting.  And the boy represents the hidden world behind our celebrations.

[The] message that wasn't lost on our diverse community. People from offices and shops congregated in the street to admire the wall art and many had their photos taken next to it. It gave a lift to our community. Now it's gone.

Banksy’s appeal has always been that, unlike much modern art, his work is no confluence of hidden meaning and innuendo. It’s immediate and direct, a visual punch-line, but with depth. The placement of the painting on the wall of a cheap goods purveyor can be taken as an added lick of painterly wit. That the work brought instant pride, and tourism, to an unfashionable London neighbourhood was no doubt an intended consequence.

But whatever the work's meaning, what happens next is not so nuanced. Slave Labour (Bunting Boy) no longer belongs to the public. On Saturday it will pass into private collection. And, if you’ve got the capital, it looks like the acquisition will be as ludicrously consequence-free as buying a roll of bunting off Ebay.

Mona Liz

In other odd news, the world’s most famous painting has a twin. The Zurich-based Mona Lisa Foundation made quiet waves in September by announcing that a painting seeming to depict a younger Lisa del Giocondo – the subject of the Mona Lisa (La Gionconda) exhibited in the Louvre for over three centuries - was believed to be authentic.

Some called it a forgery, but the Isleworth Mona Lisa - named for the London suburb where it was kept by British collected Hugh Blaker - was this week confirmed by carbon dating to have been made between 1410 and 1455, rebutting claims that it was a late 16th century copy. This analysis means the painting would predate the Mona Lisa by half a century (estimates date the Louvre’s version between 1503 and 1506.)

The new painting was also tested by a specialist in “sacred geometry”– the geometric principals of religious architecture that da Vinci famously employed in his drawing of the Vitruvian Man. The high marks scored by the Mona Lisa’s younger counterpart are, it seems, proof of an artistic ‘signature’.

 As reported by the Independent, vice-president of the Foundation David Feldman said: “When we add these new findings to the wealth of scientific and physical studies we already had, I believe anyone will find the evidence of a Leonardo attribution overwhelming.”

This evidence gathering has preoccupied the foundation for the past thirty five years and is a phenomenal discovery, considering the number of works proven to be painted by da Vinci numbers just fifteen. Even that is contested.

The comic twist must be acknowledged too: the Mona Lisa, possessor of a thousand facsimiles, turns out to have an authentic double.

Here’s another thought – why not put Isleworth Mona Lisa up at Poundland? It is a spare, after all. And the people of Wood Green deserve reparations.