Towards the end of his NYC residency, elusive street artist Banksy reworked a landscape painting and donated it to Housing Works, to help the homeless and AIDS advocacy group raise money for its causes. The painting was auctioned off for $615,000 last week, but now it turns out the person who placed the bid can't pay up, infuriating many legitimate bidders and raising questions about the whole affair. Shenanigans, related to Banksy? I'm shocked!
As lore goes, the landscape painting was sold two months ago for $50, it was dropped off with a Nazi added to it at Housing Works' 23rd Street location on Tuesday, October 29th by an "anonymous donor." It hung in the window of the store that day, and that afternoon was announced to be part of Banksy's New York residency. The auction bidding started soon after and "gorpetri" won. His bids started at 7:43 p.m. on October 31st with $350,200.00. When it was all over, gorpetri was contacted about being the winning bidder, but the NY Times reports that he "immediately shirked on the bid, said Matthew Bernardo, chief operating officer of Housing Works." So Housing Works started contacting other high bidders.
Rachel Hirschfeld, an art collector and the second bidder with an offer of $614,800, received a call on November 1st from an auction official about the painting.
“She said, ‘You win the Banksy,’ ” Ms. Hirschfeld recalled. “I said, ‘Why? Somebody bid more than me.’ She said, ‘He’s out.’ ”
But Ms. Hirschfeld didn’t think it fair to have to pay the full price, if gorpetri’s offers were not genuine. “Every bid that he made has to be out,” she said.
Another bidder, Wil Emling, who was working on behalf of a private bidder, told Talking Points Memo he was contacted this past Monday:
"I get an email saying basically the bidder has canceled and to call him right away," Emling said.
He then spoke by phone to Bernardo, who he said told him the first bidder to make an offer and wire the funds would walk away with the one-of-a-kind Banksy. But Emling had reservations about the painting in light of the news and ultimately decided to walk away.
Bernardo confirmed to TPM that the organization contacted Emling as well as "all the top qualified bidders."
The Times points out, "Buyers at auction houses like Christie’s or Sotheby’s are typically vetted financially before they can make large purchases. But Bidding for Good, which works with smaller-scale donations like tickets to 'The Daily Show,' simply requires contact information and a credit card, the company said."
Additionally, Emling claims that Bernardo told him that Banksy's people had contacted Housing Works for a landscape, "They were in on it all along. They knew. Actually, Banksy's people actually contacted them saying, 'Hey, we're looking for a landscape piece, we want to paint a monster on it," which Bernardo denied. Bernardo did confirm that painting was sold (but wouldn't say to whom or for how much), he did say to the Times, "It’s the most press that we ever had." Truth—Housing Works is a great group, whose mission is "to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts." Nowhere does it say "hold legitimate auctions!"