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Steve Lazarides: He belongs to the public, not in a gallery


What's happened to Banksy here isn't anything new: it has been going on for years, and not just with him, but with lots of artists who work in the public sphere. People seem to think it's all right to take a piece of art that is created for a particular place for their own financial gain. To me, that's just wrong.

As someone who was involved with Banksy for years, it's very depressing. Because the thing about street art is that it's meant for the street. It's not supposed to be hung in a gallery. These pieces are inextricably linked to their context: it's not just about the image – it's about the fact that it's in Palestine, it's on this particular wall, in this particular place. That gives it an enormous additional power.

All that means that knocking a wall down and shipping it to the US to sell it for a large sum of money changes the nature of the work. It dilutes it, and it's not fair on the artist, or on the public in the place it came from, who are now going to be denied the pleasure of seeing it – a pretty remarkable thing in somewhere like Bethlehem. Can you even call it a Banksy any more? I don't know the answer to that. What I do know is that the work loses something essential.

If it were real fans finding these pieces and taking them because they loved them, it would be more bearable. But I just can't see how you can justify taking something against the artist's will for no reason but money. Of course, if it's true that one of the works was sold by the owner of a butcher's shop, it's more complicated. It's their right to sell it, and I hope they made some money. But these works are expected to sell for more than $400,000 each. I don't imagine that butcher will see much of it.

For the art world, as well as for the artist, the consequences are complicated. These works haven't been verified; I represented Banksy until 2009, and I can tell you they wouldn't cross the threshold of my gallery without authentication. When there are so many imitators out there, they're on very thin ice. If it was me and I was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on one of these works, I wouldn't want to do it without certainty.

The key point is this: these were made as public works of art. As such, they should belong to everyone.

The author is an art dealer and curator who helped to launch Banksy's career