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Banksy’s Nazi Painting Continues to Haunt NYC

Bidders angry after mysterious highest bidder backs out and auction restarts

Lauren Schwartzberg
November 11, 2013
Banksy's 'The Banality of the Banality of Evil'(EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Banksy's 'The Banality of the Banality of Evil'(EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Banksy’s New York residency might have concluded at the end of October, but he hasn’t given up his spotlight just yet. The street artist’s final New York stunt: buying a landscape painting from a Housing Works thrift store, painting a Nazi on it, calling it the and giving it back to the Housing Works to sell, didn’t go as smoothly as planned.

The painting, which sat totally unnoticed all day in the Housing Works Gramercy branch, will be auctioned off in the coming days to raise money for AIDS and homelessness. So where on the Kosher spectrum does purchasing a painting of a bucolic lake setting with a Nazi superimposed on it fall?

For now, that’s a $74,000 question–the opening bidding price on the Banksy piece.

Turns out it was more of a $615,000 question, the price the highest bidder, who went by the user name “gorpetri,” initially offered. However, soon after the bidding ended gorpetri backed out, according to Matthew Bernardo, chief operating officer at Housing Works. Maybe he found the painting not so kosher after all.

Housing works reached out to the second highest bidder, Banksy collector Rachel Hirschfeld, who had offered $614,800. But after hearing of the false bid, Hirschfeld thought the whole auction was compromised, she told the New York Times.

“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.

Housing Works then contacted the auction’s other highest bidders and were able to sell the painting, but Bernardo said he would not reveal the price and the buyer will remain anonymous. “We were happy with the sale,” he told the Times. “We were happy with the process which we closed with, and it’s at a very good home.”

Still, as with almost all Banksy works, controversy remains. Wil Emling, a onetime interested bidder, claims that Housing Works, who acted surprised about the painting, knew that Banksy would drop it there all along. “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,’” Emling told Talking Points Memo and the Times. Bernardo has denied the claim.

Perhaps the most interesting accusation, though, is the claim that Banksy himself bid on his painting to crank up the price. Bernardo says there’s no evidence to support this, but with all the anonymous moves he makes, I for one wouldn’t be surprised. Whatever the case may be, though, the money went to charity and it was all for a very good cause.

Now New York can take a collective deep breath: the Banksy drama is finally over. I think.

Lauren Schwartzberg is an intern at Tablet Magazine.