Art

Banksy’s “The Drinker” at Center of Possible Art Theft Controversy

Sculpture set to be auctioned on November 19

"The Drinker"
Banksy's "The Drinker" is at the center of a bizarre art theft controversy.
Sotheby's
By Tobias Carroll / November 18, 2019 6:03 am

Who doesn’t love a good story of an art heist? Art world prankster Banksy has found himself at the center of one (maybe) with the pending auction of one of his sculptures: an homage to Rodin’s The Thinker dubbed The Drinker. It’s set to be auctioned off at Sotheby’s on November 19 — but the sculpture’s convoluted history, including multiple thefts (maybe), has added a convoluted wrinkle to the proceedings.

Of course, this is also something involving Banksy, so it’s quite possible that there’s more happening here than meets the eye.

In 2004, Banksy created a sculpture that homages and parodies Rodin’s The Thinker. The Drinker is, essentially, Rodin’s august figure after downing far too many beers: poor posture, a general sense of blurriness and a traffic cone on his head. 

At The Guardian, Emma Graham-Harrison has the details on the rest of the sculpture’s history. “The piece was left in a small square off Shaftesbury Avenue in central London in 2004,” Graham-Harrison writes, “placed there without planning permission, like almost all Banksy’s public work.”

Two weeks later, the statue was “kidnapped” by another artist, Andy Link of the art group Art Kieda, who placed it in his garden. Three years after that, the statue was taken from Link’s possession. 

Sotheby’s describes the events as being a kind of righteous reckoning: “Two years later, the work was mysteriously retrieved from Art Kieda’s lock up in an anonymous heist which left AK47 with nothing but the abandoned traffic cone from atop The Drinker’s head.” 

According to Graham-Harrison, however, Link has argued that the sculpture was stolen from him and thus should not be auctioned in the first place. The whole thing seems like a bizarre outtake from Orson Welles’s F for Fake. One can only imagine what Welles would have thought of Banksy — or the pranks the two might have played together. 

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