I have been walking around Berlin in a sort of daze for the past few weeks, and I’ve been a complete dud at cocktail parties because there is only one subject I’m interested in discussing: did you know there is someone stealing Berlin street art and selling it for a profit via Facebook? At Berlin Art Parasites we’ve talked a lot about who owns artwork—who has the right to police what artwork is seen where, how and by whom—and it simply didn’t seem right to stand by and let this new entrepreneurial endeavor go on un-announced or un-denounced.
In the spirit of journalistic integrity, we’ve contacted Street Art 4 Sale and we’ll be presenting their side of the story. But I would like to say this up front and explicitly: this flagrant violation of the rights of the artist and the public offends my sensibilities as both a Berliner and a creator. In private conversations, I’ve been throwing around words like shocking and despicable, but before we officially cry havoc, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of exactly what is going on here.
Taking Out The Trash
According to Street Art 4 Sale, who operates anonymously for his own “personal safety,” this ingenious little operation began after the proprietor saw the film Vigilante Vigilante and felt compelled to,“Help out with the growing vandalism problem in the city.” But it was only after watching Exit Through the Gift Shop, the popular film by street artist Banksy, that our masked merchant, “Realized the potential value of the ‘art’ littering the streets” and, “Decided to sell what we clean up to help monetize the project as well as give back thru charity to the homeless of the city.”
Quite frankly, I find the notion that someone could perceive urban artwork as vandalism and yet profit from its clear and present value as a cultural product, suspect if not outright hypocritical. After questioning how Street Art 4 Sale deals with the artists whose work they are selling, I received the following response:
“I do not deal with the artists. As I have stated, I see what they do as illegal acts either [of] vandalism or illegal dumping. They do this as a form of free publicity for themselves. Many who started on the street simply use the street as a vehicle for self promotion. Once they are well known enough then galleries approach them and they sell their work in a legal fashion for big money. There are many examples of the Prost, Alias, C215, Just, el Bocho, ect. I see no need to compensate them for the illegal act. Just as if someone abandoned a couch on the street (illegal dumping) and I picked it up and sold it at a market, I would not try to contact the owner and give them a slice of the profit. Once the furniture or art is dumped on the street the owner has forfeited the rights to said object. Keep in mind I am not breaking into museums or galleries, I am simply clearing abandoned art work that has been illegally dumped.”
I’ve included Street Art 4 Sale's full response to my inquiry because I believe it’s important to allow both sides of this issue to be represented as honestly as possible, especially given my inability to remain even a little bit objective on this issue.
The View From Where I Stand
I find it reprehensible in the extreme to suggest that simply because street artists choose a public venue for their work, it is somehow obvious that they are only angling for self-promotion. And the idea that street art falls clearly into the same camp as an abandoned couch is as fallacious as its suspect. As was made clear by the public expression of outrage over the removal of Banksy’s mural, which depicts a boy hunched over a sewing machine making Union Jack bunting, urban art becomes the property of the people and the removal of this work for profit is a violation of the trust of both the public and the artist.
My clear and present outrage over this enterprise provoked me to air my grievances publicly; however, I did hesitate at the thought that bringing Street Art 4 Sale into the public eye could promote the theft and resale of Urban Art. However, at the end of the day, I believe that the discourse, like the work itself, must be free and open to the public. People of Berlin, it’s time to have your say: where do you stand?
Article by Hannah Nelson-Teutsch
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on the pages of Artparasites in May, 2013. If Street Art is your thing, here's more where that came from: