Auction of ‘kidnapped’ Banksy work reignites bitter feud

The sale of a sculpture by Banksy at Sotheby’s today (19 November) has revived a caustic feud between the prankster-artist and his contemporary, Andy Link.

‘The Drinker’, Banksy’s satirical version of Auguste Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, is expected to fetch between £750,000-£1 million at Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale. Yet, the auction has been overshadowed by allegations from Link, aka ‘AK47’ that cast doubt on the sculpture’s legal ownership.

The mixed media work appeared in March 2004 in a small square off Shaftesbury Avenue in London. Rendered from industrial materials that mimic Rodin’s bronze, ’The Drinker’ similarly depicts the figure of a seated man but in an ironic twist, he appears to slump, intoxicated beneath a traffic cone balanced on his head. Sotheby’s describes it as a ‘subversive recreation’ and ‘one of Banksy’s most ambitious sculptural endeavours to date’.

Sotheby’s catalogue details that the present owner acquired the work directly from Steve Lazarides, founder of Lazinc, who acquired it from the artist. Link, leader of the Art Kieda “arto-politico” group disputes this, arguing that he is the rightful owner.

According to Link, ‘The Drinker’ was abandoned in 2004 and he “kidnapped” it “on principle” after Banksy called him a “cheap Northern b******” for getting a mutual friend to ask him to sign a print valued at £75. “It wasn’t done as revenge, it was done as one-upmanship”, Link explained.

Following the ‘kidnapping’, Link contacted the police to report the theft. He also contacted Banksy for a ransom. In response, Banksy offered Link “£2 towards a can of petrol” to set ‘The Drinker’ on fire. Link kept the sculpture in his garden until three years later when it was taken while he was away.

Sotheby’s catalogue says the work was ‘mysteriously retrieved from Art Kieda’s lock-up in an anonymous heist’. The Guardian writes that the use of the word ‘retrieved’ suggests the sculpture was taken from Link by Banksy or his associates.

Link maintains that he has a legal right to ‘The Drinker’ and cites documents and case numbers he kept after reporting his ‘kidnapping’ to the police as evidence of his ownership. Nevertheless, Sotheby’s is satisfied the seller has the legal right to offer the work for sale at auction after consulting both the Metropolitan Police and the Art Loss Register.

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