Last week we reported that Banksy’s Spy Booth piece in Cheltenham had been sold and was in the process of being removed, wall and all, from the side of the house on which it had been created.
Now it seems that local residents are working together in an attempt to save the Banksy mural, by raising the money to buy it themselves, on condition that it stays where it is, or so claims an art dealer whose gallery specialises in Banksy’s art.
Robin Barton of London gallery Bankrobber initially said that he had been appoached by the owner of the house regarding a possible sale, but was then “shocked at the level of vitriol” following the reports that the piece may be removed.
Barton has now revealed that the owner has been back in touch with him, claiming to have received death threats in opposition to the sale, and that a “six-figure” deal to keep the Banksy mural in Cheltenham is nearing completion.
He said, “A deal is close to being concluded that will see this much-loved local landmark remain in situ and protected into the future,” and that “pending no disasters, as far as I’m concerned the deal will go through and the piece will remain where it is.”
It is not yet clear whether the cash is coming from a new group of benefactors, or from Cheltenham businessperson Angela De Souza, who last week started up a fund to try to save the Banksy piece.
She was this morning quoted as saying “We haven’t yet raised what we need, but we have managed to buy some time,” and added cryptically, “I can’t say anything about what is going on behind the scenes.”
This would seem to indicate that she is at least a part of the mystery group attempting to rescue Spy Booth from removal.
She continued, “But I appeal to the public not to do any damage to the Banksy. If any damage is done, that will undo whatever progress we’ve managed to make.”
Meanwhile another argument has arisen over the actual ownership of the piece, since the now-external wall was once a party wall that belonged to both 159 Fairview Road and the now-absent 64 Hewlett Road, which was bought and demolished by Gloucestershire County Council in the early 1960’s so that they could make road improvements.
Unless Gloucestershire County Council at some point conveyed the wall entirely to the owners of 159 Fairview Road, then it remains at least partially owned by the council, which would cast doubts on any plans for the wall or the artwork to be removed.
As of last night, two security guards have been on duty in front of the piece, apparently contracted by the council, to ensure that nobody vandalises or otherwise damages the mural.
The council’s involvement in hiring the guards may indicate that there is some weight to this argument, and that the tale might yet have an additional twist.
On Friday, the owner of the scaffolding company revealed that he himself had bought the Banksy piece and intended to display it in his own home. It is not clear whether he also had intentions to buy the actual phone booth from British Telecom, buy a new one from them, have a replica constructed, or display a photograph of the original booth in its place.
In the third conflicting story from the scaffolding company in less than a week, an employee revealed that his boss was “a collector” and “he is not selling it on, although if someone walked into the gallery and offered him a piece of paper with a certain number on it, he might consider it.”
Also on Friday, a steel joist and metal props were visible above the heads of one of the”spies” in the mural, but by Saturday afternoon the hole had been repaired.
All that can be said for sure at the moment is that the situation has divided opinion, and that the future of the mural is still uncertain.