Early last month, residents of Midwood woke up to a pair of new neighborhood beautification projects.
At the corner of Coney Island Avenue and Avenue I, an empty single-story building suddenly sported an anti-gentrification mural: the silhouette of a suit-clad real-estate developer wielding a jagged graph line — the kind associated with rising stock prices — as people ran ahead of him, as if being chased. Next door, an abandoned gas station boasted a painting of a seal balancing a red-orange ball that was once part of a Mobil logo.
Rumors circulated that the art was done by Banksy, the notorious, anonymous, UK-based street artist who has splashed politically charged images upon walls from Bethlehem, West Bank, to Liverpool, England. Finally, on March 19, a message on Banksy’s Instragram — 2.1 million followers strong — confirmed that he (the artist is widely believed to be a man) had created it. But other questions remained unanswered: Who really owns the works — and should anyone be able to make money from them?
In a world where Banksy street-pieces — essentially, illegally created public art — cut from buildings can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars, proprietary domain is a hot-button issue. Legally, according to attorney Eric Baum, who represented artists in litigation involving the 5 Pointz mural space in Long Island City, “The owner of the building can sell [or keep] the artwork.” And, he adds, the property owner can also destroy it. Read more