“The thing is, artists like Banksy make pieces in their studios that they designate for sale,” explains Greif. “But the works they’re making on the street aren’t intended to be sold, or even saved.” It’s precisely this question of intent that first thwarts Greif’s plans. In one scene, he offers the painting as a gift to SFMOMA
. But while John Zarobell, the museum’s assistant curator at the time, admits it’s a strong piece, he explains that he can’t accept the donation without a note from Banksy approving the removal of the painting and its placement within a museum context.
Zarobell also outlines another requirement by the museum: the delivery of a certificate of authenticity from Banksy himself, to ensure that he created the painting. But while the Haight Street Rat was listed on the artist’s website as an original, Banksy’s studio wouldn’t provide the document. It might seem like an odd decision for an artist to block their work from entering a prominent museum collection. So why would he do it?
As Greif explains, if Banksy were to authorize the work it would set a precedent, “that works intended for the street, after they’re removed, still have value.” And that’s not a precedent, as we learn through the documentary, that artists like Banksy want to support. Day elaborates: “There’s kind of a black market that’s emerged for paintings removed from the street, and artists don’t want to encourage it by legitimizing those paintings.” While selling works uprooted from the streets isn’t technically illegal, the process does pose some serious ethical quandaries. Not only do most street artists disapprove of the removal of their works from their original context, but they also don’t see any of the profit made from the sales.
Stephan Keszler is one of several dealers known for ignoring the intentions of artists like Banksy whose street work he sells. He shows up in one of the film’s more memorable scenes—showing a series of Banksy street paintings he maintains “aren’t for sale” at a 2012 Miami art fair. The presentation includes the Haight Street Rat, which Greif had lent in frustration after his unsuccessful attempts to return the work to a public context. However, Grief begins to regret his decision the moment he sees the work on the wall of the fair: “I don’t know how I feel about this. It’s like when you see a deer in the wild, it’s cool, but when you see a deer’s head on the wall, it’s not so cool.”
To confuse matters further, Greif’s piece is hung alongside two works that were originally stenciled by Banksy on a wall separating Palestine and Israel. The artist placed them there, as artist Glen E. Friedman points out in the film, in an attempt to “make a positive impact” in the wartorn region. Friedman goes on to express a frustration shared by numerous artists across the film, when “some fucking asshole takes the shit off the wall and tries to sell it to someone. What sense does that make?” Street artist
, a friend of Banksy who accompanied him on the trip to Palestine, echoes the sentiment, referring to Keszler in particular: “In the street-art world he’s considered a shyster, a villain.”