Once the preserve of rebellious youth, graffiti has now been elevated to an art form and UK property developers are capitalising on its widespread appeal.
Street art is highly prized nationally and internationally and a lucrative business for dealers and even global corporations such as McDonalds. A Banksy stencil of a child making Union flag bunting called ‘Slave Labour’ was ripped from a Poundland wall in Wood Green in 2003 and shipped to Miami for sale at Fine Art Auctions. The sale was halted only after a concerted campaign for its return led by Haringey Council. McDonalds was sued last December over its use of New York street artist ‘Secret Snow’s’ work to decorate the interior of one of its restaurants.
Conscious of the growing appetite for graffiti art, developers and urban planners are no longer fazed by what once would have been considered vandalism. Instead, they are using graffiti as a “place making” tool to market luxury properties to a hip new generation of homebuyers.
In some cases, savvy developers are incorporating existing works into their projects as decorative talking points. At Sartoria House in Notting Hill, a Banksy, which appeared on the side of the Victorian building overnight will be moved to the first floor of the new luxury development and illuminated. The building’s owners, Enstar Capital, are marketing it as “London’s first new development designed around graffiti artwork”.
Developers are not simply cashing in on existing works but are also commissioning new pieces for use as part of their advertising strategies. The marketing suite for The Stage, a 37-floor project by Galliard Homes in Shoreditch is adorned with pop art illustrations by street artist D*Face. The Stage’s slogan boasts that the development is where “Global finance and pinstripes succumb to edgy art”.
As the graffiti paradigm shifts, not all is as straightforward as it seems. The phenomenon has raised a plethora of questions around legal ownership of street art some of which have required resolution in court. In 2015, the Creative Foundation fought and won a lengthy legal battle over the rights to Banksy’s ‘Art Buff’, which appeared overnight on a wall in the heart of Folkestone’s Creative Quarter.
Dreamland Leisure Limited, the tenants of the building on which ‘Art Buff’ appeared, were told by Mr Justice Arnold in the High Court in London that once the mural was removed from the wall for sale in the US it belonged to the landlord of the property. As assignees of the landlord’s claim, the Creative Foundation were entitled to the mural’s return to Folkestone.
As urban development meets urban art could we see more artists and developers face off in court?