A major Banksy sculpture will hit the auction block on Tuesday, when it is expected to fetch up to £1 million ($1.2 million), but now another artist has come forward claiming the work was stolen from him.
Banksy placed The Drinker (2004)—where a man apparently in a drunken stupor wears an orange traffic cone on his head, a play on Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker (1903)—in a square off of Shaftesbury Avenue in London in 2004, but it didn’t stay there for long. Art Kieda, a pseudonymous movement led by artist Andy Link, stole the statue, registered their “found” property with the police, and contacted Banksy to demand a ransom. According to The Guardian, the elusive street artist only offered “£2 towards a can of petrol” to set the statue on fire. Link chose to keep the work in his garden instead.
The 7-foot-tall statue was then stolen from Link’s garden; the unknown thief left only the traffic cone behind. Crowned with a new traffic cone, a certificate for the statue was issued by Banksy’s authenticating agency Pest Control, and The Drinker was acquired by its current owner in 2014 through Banksy’s former dealer Steve Lazarides. It is estimated to bring in £750,000 to £1 million ($967,000 to $1.2 million) at Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale in London on Tuesday (though online bidding is already open).
Link is now claiming he has ownership over the statue: When he had stolen the statue, he registered it with the police, and Banksy did not formally ask for it back. He additionally reported the theft of the statue from his property to the police. Wording in the Sotheby’s catalog essay saying the statue was “retrieved” may imply that Banksy stole the statue back from Link’s garden, though this is not confirmed.
Link told The Guardian:
I did the right thing, and reported it to the police. I do not understand how Sotheby’s can sell this when I have such proof.
In a statement provided to Artsy, a Sotheby’s spokesperson said:
We are satisfied that the consignor has the right to sell the work and as part of our pre-sale due diligence we consulted both the Metropolitan Police and the Art Loss Register.
Link said he hopes the police will investigate the incident; London’s Met Police does not have an open case into the matter.