Our President

Our President


Written By: Philip Turton
Edition: February 2021

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE LAW AND WHAT IS RIGHT

THE SORRY TALE OF THE NOTTINGHAM BANKSY

 

In terms of altruism this has been a remarkable year (it has been a remarkable year for lots of other reasons too, but that is not my theme).  In April I wrote a President’s Message suggesting that members of the legal profession might follow the example set by doctors and nurses across the country, by striving to keep the Court process moving and to co-operate with plans for Nightingale Courts and extended hours.  An example had already been set by the selflessness of those working in our hospitals, whose public spirit so touched the nation that for 10 weeks or so we gathered on Thursday evenings to applaud them.  Similar commitment had been shown by Captain Sir Tom Moore, as he gamely battled around his garden in order to raise phenomenal sums for the National Health Service, before tragically succumbing to the COVID-19 virus himself.  As the vaccination programme rolls out there are many more examples of people helping others gain the protection they need from this horrible source of infection.  These are but examples.  There are many others.  In this year, of all years, the human spirit has been in the ascendant.

What are we thus to make of the sale of “The Nottingham Banksy” or, more accurately, the sale of a section of wall on which the activist and street artist, Banksy, had painted a picture of a young girl and a hula-hoop.  For those who may not know, on 13th October 2020 a painting of a young girl and her hula hoop (a bicycle tyre) appeared on the corner of Rothesay Avenue in Radford.  After a degree of speculation and argument the street artist, Banksy, confirmed that it was his work.  In front of the mural a broken bicycle was chained to a post, in a nod to Nottingham’s past industries.  In fact the bike was, in due course, removed, as was reported, by the “owner” for safe-keeping.  “Owner” in this context does not mean the owner of the bicycle or, indeed, the painting, but the owner of the brick wall on which it was painted.  

In the first weeks queues of people formed eager to see this contribution to Nottingham culture and it became a talking point at a time of peak Covid concern, fostering a sense of pride for the city.

Perhaps we should have known that it couldn’t last.  Thus, in the early hours of Wednesday 17th February 2021, a specialist company acting on the orders of John Brandler, the owner of Brandler Galleries and a self proclaimed “collector”, arrived and removed the wall.  It has been taken away to Bury St Edmunds and will no longer be seen in Nottingham.  Apparently the homeowner sold the wall to Mr Brandler for “a six figure sum” which both have since refused to identify with any more precision.  Mr Brandler proposes to curate an exhibition of Banksy’s work somewhere near Essex, at which people will be charged for the privilege of seeing Mr Brandler’s property. 

In terms of altruism, the painting initially fitted nicely with my theme for the year.  As Simon Bristow of the Nottingham Project City Rejuvenation Board said “It was great for the city.  It arrived in the midst of COVID when we were all going through a really terrible time, and there was just this brilliant moment of enjoyment, and joy and delight”.  I cannot recall an artwork provoking such excitement amongst the people of Nottingham before.  But now, sadly, it seems not to be a tale of selflessness at all.  Rather the opposite, in fact. 

 

There is no question, it seems, but that what has happened is lawful.  As Mr Brandler has been shouting loudly on social media and to the press, the house owner didn’t ask for the painting to be erected and the wall was his to do with as he chose.  Whilst it may seem odd to remove part of your house and sell it to a gallery, in the particular circumstances it is entirely understandable and indeed, there are plenty of people who have stepped forward to say that if the opportunity presented itself to them, they would have done exactly the same.  Which is something of a shame in this year of all years.  What has happened is legal, but demonstrates that gap between what the law allows and what is right.

Mr Brandler is vocal, if not abrasive, in his defence of what has happened, although when pinned down the detail is woefully short.  As lawyers we have keener noses than most for bull**** and the smell around Mr Brandler is distinctive.  It is said that the property owner (who has insisted on anonymity to date) had tried to donate the piece locally but that discussions with local organisations had not led anywhere.  If true, those discussions have been very low key.  It would be surprising, had the position been made public, if someone had not been prepared to come forward to ensure that the artwork remained in the city chosen by the artist.  It reflected Nottingham’s cycling heritage.  It generated good feeling in the city.  No-one has yet said who made the first approach which led to the sale.  Which of the two, seller or buyer, saw the opportunity first, do you think?  

If finding a genuine solution had been a priority, would it have been unreasonable for the homeowner to announced what was afoot and would follow if assistance could not be provided with maintenance for the artwork.  And perhaps tellingly, if we are to weigh up whether the paltry justifications advanced are to be given any weight, why was it necessary to arrive in the early hours to remove the artwork, before anyone realised what was going on? 

What of Banksy himself in all of this.  The artist is notoriously secretive and unlikely to offer comment (or replacement).  Perhaps this tells us something about the realities of art or, more widely, society.  Art is never really for the masses but only for wealthy patrons who can afford it?  Were we naïve to regard this as Nottingham’s own artwork, belonging to all of us?  Maybe it really is the case that Banksy never intended to provide anything public at all, still less something for all Nottingham people to enjoy.  Perhaps he simply is a modern-day equivalent of St Nicholas or the Easter Bunny, moving from city to city in order to dispense a winning lottery ticket to one lucky property owner and a money-grubbing Bury St Edmunds gallery owner.

Yours as ever,

Philip 

Philip Turton

President 2020-2021