London-based street artist Stik is internationally known for painting cute stick figures that just generally make people smile. It’s a harmless bit of good that he does. Sometimes he even collaborates with kids in the towns where he paints. He’s the most heartwarming kind of muralist. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that Stik used his art career to lift himself out of homelessness. Who would ever do something to mess with Stik?
The Institute of Art and Law Blog has a good explanation of the story up to this point. It goes something like this:
- Back in 2011, Stik painted two murals on shipping containers in Gdańsk, Poland.
- The murals were commissioned by the Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art in Gdańsk, and were a painted in collaboration with 10 local young people.
- In late 2014, the containers disappeared. Later, it was discovered the owner had sold them for only $4,000. That’s approximately market rate for two standard shipping containers without murals on them, suggesting that nobody in Gdańsk was aware of what was about to happen.
- In October 2015, 10 pieces of the containers reappeared (representing 16 out of the 53 figures originally in the murals), chopped up and on display at Lamberty’s gallery in London. The asking price was £10,000-12,000 per section.
- Initially, Lamberty’s website include the claim that “All of Stik’s street works that come into Lamberty are fully approved by the artist.” This was not true, and is still not true.
- In late October, Lamberty posted a statement on their website about the situation. As hard as they might try, it does not make Lamberty look good. Some choice quotes from that statement:
- “Lamberty legally purchased these works with full documentation. We removed them from a harsh outdoor climate, where they were deteriorating, and prepared them for indoor instalment.”
- “Lamberty has requested that Stik recognise and endorse the removal of these pieces – in exchange we have offered to return the works over decorated by local children for the enjoyment or benefit of the local school community.” You read that right: Lamberty is holding some of the Gdańsk segments hostage, and his price is that Stik authenticates other Gdańsk segments for Lamberty to then sell.
- Today, in January, Stik is still fighting to get the works back from Lamberty and stop the sale of the mutilated and unauthenticated mural.
So here’s how the situation appears to me: A scumbag went to Poland, bought a community mural from a private owner, mutilated that mural by chopping it into little pieces, tried to sell those little pieces for a profit, got caught being a scumbag, and finally decided to make everything better (read: save his detestable investment) by trying to pressure a kindhearted artist into sullying his reputation and authenticating inauthentic artworks.
But what makes these Lamberty pieces inauthentic? Assuming these pieces are the shipping container that Stik painting, they were once Stik murals. And now they are not. How? By chopping them up, Lamberty has irrevocably changed the meaning of the artwork. What was once a message of solidarity (50-odd people holding hands) is broken apart into lonely, separated people. Only a fool would call that the same artwork. What is Guernica if you only see the oil lamp? What is The Great Gatsby if you only read page 103? Therefore, these works are not authentic Stik paintings (at least not anymore than someone trying to sell you page 103 of The Great Gatsby is selling you a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald). This is moral rights 101.
Lamberty’s defense, that he paid for the shipping containers before cutting them up, is like saying that it’s okay to own a stolen car, as long as you paid someone to steal it for you. Oh, and then you cut that stolen car into 53 pieces and tried to sell each of piece separately as one fully-functional new car. And then you tell the car’s original owner than you’ll return half pieces, but only if they will tell the police that nothing was stolen in the first place.
It’s time for Lamberty to do the right thing. He should immediately return every piece of the Gdańsk shipping containers to Stik or to the people of Gdańsk. He should also pay for Stik to paint a new mural in Gdańsk. If Lamberty won’t do that, he and his gallery need to shut up and stop pretending to have the moral high ground here.
As for the rest of us, we just need to keep one thing in mind: Buying unauthenticated street pieces is not okay, and the people who sell street pieces tend to be shady, even by art dealer standards. Why deal with with shady people? Support your favorite artists by buying direct from them or the galleries that represent them. It’s really that simple.
Photos courtesy of Stik and from lamberty.co.uk