Detroit’s Banksy mural, a source of contention since its 2010 discovery in the Packard Plant, was auctioned off for $137,500 Wednesday night in Beverly Hills, California.
The 7-by-7-foot mural, which features a sad-looking African-American boy holding a paint can and brush, reads, “I remember when all this was trees.” The website for Julien’s Auctions calls the work by the elusive British artist one of his “most poignant examples of American street art” and had estimated the sale of the painted concrete wall would fetch between $200,000 to $400,000.
Another Banksy work also netted substantial prices at the auction Wednesday. “Bomb Hugger,” used as a placard during anti-war protests in 2003, sold for $$22,500, according to the Twitter page for Julien’s Auctions.
The mural is owned by 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios in Detroit, whose members chipped it out of a wall at the crumbling Packard Plant and moved it to their space in Detroit’s Mexicantown five years ago.
Initially, 555 administrators said they had no intention of selling the work, but they backtracked on that pledge last year. Previous Banksy paintings have sold for well over $1 million.
The gallery intends to use sale proceeds to redevelop a 30,000-square-foot former tobacco processing plant on Detroit’s east side.
“When we began the process of reviewing our assets we determined the time was right for us to consider auctioning off the Banksy piece to assist in the overall goal of renovating our new home,” gallery co-founder Carl Goines said in a statement. “This is a win-win for 555 Gallery and Detroit because we were able to find, recover and preserve a piece of art that otherwise at best have never been found and at worst destroyed in the dilapidated Packard plant. Now its auction will help bring life to a community art space, gallery and artist studios.”
Goines always maintained that removing the mural was necessary to save it, because that part of the plant was about to be demolished. But 555’s act of appropriation enraged many in Detroit’s art community.
“The removal goes against what I believe graffiti/street art is,” Detroit artist Carl Oxley told The Detroit News in 2014. “It’s not meant to be preserved at all.”
Banksy, who has never revealed his identity, began his career spray-painting buildings in Bristol, England, and has since become one of the world’s best-known artists.
The attribution of the Packard Plant mural to Banksy was based mostly on its resemblance to other works known to be his, and by the fact that a picture of the Detroit mural was posted on Banksy.co.uk — thought to be the reclusive artist’s website, shortly after its discovery.
At the same time, the piece has never been authenticated by Pest Control, an outfit that represents Banksy in questions of authorship.
Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report.