If someone owns a building with famous graffiti, there’s no legal issue with selling the building with the art, or with taking the work out of the building before the sale of the building. The latter route was the path the Church of the Ascension chose when it sold off
a rarely seen
mural earlier this year—to the tune of $3.8 million. The process cost $900,000, according to the New York Times
, and took two years. The sale marked the first time a Haring mural had appeared at auction, though his murals have been privately sold
The Grace House Mural (ca. 1983–84) was painted by the artist in one night, in the staircase of a youth group’s home. Some of Haring’s most iconic characters, like the barking dog, the crawling baby, and two conjoined figures with a hole in their shared chest, make an appearance. Grace House, a former convent and the one-time home of the Catholic Youth Organization, is now closed, and its owner, the Church of the Ascension, needed to sell the building to cover its expenses.
The process of removing the mural—which consisted of 13 individual pieces, each weighing around 1,000 pounds—involved some trial and error on the part of EverGreene Architectural Arts, a Brooklyn-based firm that specializes in conserving and restoring buildings. After initially trying a technique that would only remove the paint from the substrate, EverGreene chipped away the surrounding wall and extracted each section of the mural piece by piece. Since the mural went up three stories of stairs, it would have been impossible to extract it in one piece. The team then applied a resin to the back of each section, welded custom metal frames to each one, and then hoisted the frames down to the building’s ground floor.
“We put in a lot of time and the church put in a lot of time making sure this was done right, and of course there was always the possibility that the mural cracked or something happened while we were taking it out,” said Andrew Maziarski, a manager for the project. “There’s no guarantee that we were going to be able to get all 13 of these out in the condition that we did.”
Lisa De Simone, a senior specialist of post-war and contemporary art at auction house Bonhams, which handled the sale of Grace House Mural, praised its “excellent condition.” After the mural was painstakingly transported to the Bonhams showroom, all 13 pieces were arranged in a gallery dedicated to Haring, where it remained on public view for nearly two weeks. Besides the logistics of removing the work, De Simone said the process of selling the mural at auction was strikingly similar to selling any other type of artwork.