In October 2020 viewers of the Antiques Roadshow watched in dismay as a man attempted to get a “stolen” artwork valued. The segment would later cause outrage online and beyond. But it was the artist responsible for the piece that would ultimately have the last laugh.
When the man appeared on the U.K. edition of the Antiques Roadshow, he’d hoped to establish the value of an artwork that had come into his possession some years earlier. If it proved to be the real deal, there was a chance he was sitting on a fortune. But there was a problem with the way he’d obtained the item. And perhaps calling it a problem is a vast understatement…
That’s because, during his appearance, the man brazenly admitted that he had taken the art without permission. This revelation caused an outcry among the viewing public, some of which felt he had “stolen” the item. Not only that, but the bombshell would ultimately affect the worth of his find.
In case you’re not familiar with it, the Antiques Roadshow first aired in the United Kingdom in 1979. The premise relies on members of the public, who bring their most treasured possessions to be inspected and valued by a team of experts. And over the years watching the show on a Sunday afternoon has become somewhat of a tradition in its native Britain.
But it’s not just Brits who enjoy the show. You’re probably aware that the United States launched its own version of the Antiques Roadshow in 1997, and the series remains popular to this day. The format has also sold internationally in countries like Finland, Netherlands, Australia and Canada.
Over the years, viewers of the Antiques Roadshow have been treated to a series of surprises on the show. These usually relate to the appraisal of collectibles, which every now and then are valued at astronomical prices. And often the true worth of these pieces comes as much as a shock to their owners, as it does to the audience at home.
One of the most valuable collectibles to be featured on the U.S. edition in 2015, for instance, was a rare piece of sporting memorabilia. And this is going to blow your mind! The owner had inherited a number of baseball-related items from her great-great-grandmother. She, in turn, had owned a boarding house where the Boston Red Stockings team stayed in 1871.
Among the items in the woman’s collection were examples of some of the earliest photographic baseball cards. There was also a letter addressed to her great-great-grandmother which had been signed by the Boston Red Stocking players. Her epic haul was appraised by Leila Dunbar, who put its value at a jaw-dropping $1,000,000.
One of the most valuable items to feature on the U.K. edition, meanwhile, was a small model of the Angel of the North. The full-sized sculpture by Antony Gormley is situated in Gateshead in the North East of England. But while the completed piece of contemporary art is 20 times bigger than the one brought for appraisal, its mini version was still extremely valuable.
What made this model of the Angel of the North so significant was that it happened to be the final maquette made of the sculpture. What’s that exactly? Well, it’s a smaller model on which the final version is based, and of course was made beforehand. So its design was the very one approved for the larger version. That meant that it was worth a massive $1.3 million when it appeared on the show back in 2008.
As the appraisal of the Angel of the North maquette proved, collectibles didn’t have to be old to be valuable. So when someone turned up with a work by one of the most prominent contemporary artists in the world, it seemed like he might have been sitting on a fortune.
The particular segment of the Antiques Roadshow was filmed in 2018 but didn’t air until October 2020. And it appears there was a good reason for it originally being edited out. The setting was the opulent Piece Hall in Halifax, England. So it seemed like the stage was set for an impressive appraisal. That was until the full story behind the collectible came to light.
The man who’d brought the artwork onto the show was pretty normal-looking. He was dressed in a blue short-sleeved shirt, which he left unbuttoned at the collar and wore his short greying hair in a cropped style, with a similarly tidy beard. But while his appearance was not out of the ordinary, the item in his possession was.
That’s because the man had come onto the Antiques Roadshow to have what appeared to be a Banksy piece evaluated. The work in question took the form of a metal placard featuring one of the graffiti artist’s distinctive stencil-style designs. In this case, the motif was that of a rat operating what looked like a jackhammer beneath the word “Banksy.”
It would probably be fair to say that Banksy isn’t the most conventional artist in the industry. For instance, he operates under a pseudonym and often produces his graffiti work covertly, so as not to be seen. While he started off making freehand street pieces, he’s now known for his stencil work.
Plus, Banksy’s work is often controversial and tends to be political in nature. Some of the themes of his graffiti art focus on capitalism, greed and war. Not only that, but some common motifs the artist uses include rats, apes, policemen, children and the royal family, which appear to portray an anti-authoritarian message.
So Bristol and London became centers for Banksy’s street art in the late 1990s. But as he’s gained prominence, his work has spread far and wide. And one of his best-known designs appeared on the West Bank between Israel and Palestine in 2005. It shows children playing on wasteland on one side of a wall, while a beautiful beach scene can be seen through an apparent hole.
While Banksy has called himself a “quality vandal,” his work has come to be highly-prized within the art world. He has staged major exhibitions in London’s Tate Britain and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. And that’s not all. Over the years, Banksy has released a number of books and directed the 2010 street art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.
But Banksy hasn’t completely embraced the commercial side of the art world. For a collector to verify a Banksy piece, they must go through the artist’s Pest Control website. If artwork is deemed as authentic, it is issued with a certificate. But these are only given to works that were produced for sale, and not to pieces of street art that were created in the public domain.
And it would seem that even works that have been verified as Banksy’s are not safe from the artist’s own apparent disdain of the commercial art world. That’s because, in 2018, a canvas of Banksy’s Girl with Balloon appeared to self-destruct soon after selling for $1.4 million at auction. To onlookers’ surprise, the valuable artwork was left partly shredded in its frame.
Banksy later claimed credit for the stunt in a video, but that was not the end of the story. Because he revealed that the canvas was meant to be completely destroyed, although a malfunction in the frame’s in-built shredder meant only half of it was ripped apart. Even so, all was not lost. Because Pest Control issued a new certificate of authentication, christening the revised artwork, “Love Is in the Bin.”
So it seems that even having your hands on a genuine Banksy isn’t that straight-forward. That’s certainly what the unnamed man on the Antiques Roadshow discovered when he brought his piece of street art in for valuation. Because while he was convinced his piece was the real deal, Pest Control had other concerns.
During the art fan’s appearance on the British TV show, the guy in question explained how he’d come into possession of the Banksy. He reveals, “I used to live in Brighton in the late 1990s [or] early 2000s and I was walking along Brighton seafront and I saw it on a lido, on the seafront… And it looked loose.”
What the man admitted next would shock some viewers. He said of the artwork, “I went over [and] pulled it off, basically.” At this point, expert Rupert Maas interjects to ask, “Gave it a bit of persuasion?” And with a knowing grin on his face, the man responds, “Yeah, just a little bit of a tug. Yeah.”
With the background of the artwork determined, next Maas asks what it is that the man wants to know. To that, the collector replies, “I know what it is. I know what year it was, it was around 2004. It’s basically just trying to get an evaluation of it.” But it seems that finding out the worth of his Banksy piece isn’t going to be easy.
Maas goes on to explain that there are some obstacles that stand in the way of him valuing the Banksy work. He revealed, “That’s a tricky thing because, d’you know, the thing about Banksy – and he’s not the first to have done this, of course – is that he manages his brand very, very carefully indeed.” But what did this mean for the man standing in front of him?
Revealing how a collector would ordinarily go about verifying a Banksy piece as genuine, Maas explains, “He has a website where you can go in and you can apply for a certificate of authenticity of his work.” Then the art expert added that either the artist or his team would decide whether to issue such a document. But, he said, they had strict criteria.
Yes, Maas went on to outline what potential Banksy works had to adhere to in order to be classified as the real thing. He told the collector, “He or his team will issue [a certificate of authentication] if they think, first of all, it’s authentic, and B. they think that it has not been removed from the public domain for which it was painted, and into the private.”
According to Maas, an artwork being taken from the public domain was cause enough for the Banksy team not to verify it as genuine. He says of the artist, “He calls it Pest Control, which is rather good considering the rat features rather a lot in his work.” The man smiles in response, but the news doesn’t bode well for the value of his artwork.
Next, Maas had the million-dollar question for the collector. He asks, “I wonder whether you’ve tried to get [a certificate of authentication]. Have you?” The man reveals that he had, but that his application was not successful. He explains, “They said… They couldn’t claim it was an original Banksy.”
Even so the man remains adamant that the artwork he pilfered was indeed the real deal, despite the response he’d received from Pest Control which suggested otherwise. He says, “I know it’s real. You know, because Brighton was hit quite a bit by Banksy when he was down there around that time.”
Despite the man’s protestations, without official verification from Banky’s Pest Control team, his piece of art was practically worthless. As Maas explained, “Without that certificate it’s just very difficult to sell. With it, it might be worth £20,000. Without it, you’re nowhere. I’m sorry.”
With that, the Banksy collector’s appearance on the Antiques Roadshow came to an abrupt, and no doubt disappointing, end. But after the episode aired in October 2020, the story took on a life of its own. And many viewers were outraged by the man’s gall in taking a “stolen” artwork onto the show.
A video of the man’s appearance on the show appeared on YouTube in October 2020 and has since been viewed almost 250,000 times. It’s also attracted a number of comments, many of which expressed outrage at his brazenness. One such message read, “He just stood there with a smug grin on his face. Some people have no shame.”
Another user said of the man’s appearance on the show, “That was ballsy. I mean, to knowingly steal something, and then brazenly appear on national TV and try to fence your stolen goods?” And a further commenter posted, “Spot on analysis. that was artwork meant for public viewing, not for selfish and greedy thieves.”
But it wasn’t just the viewing public who were shocked by the man’s brazen confession. After the episode of the Antiques Roadshow aired, Brighton and Hove City Council confirmed it was investigating the incident. In a statement, it described the man’s actions in taking the artwork as “criminal damage.” Funny that – considering the thing had been gone for roughly 20 years, and the council had probably never noticed!
In a statement obtained by the Brighton-based newspaper The Argus, a council spokesperson said, “Removing street art from public spaces is not only criminal damage but can lead to safety hazards or closure of valuable amenities for our residents. It is a shameful act that is detrimental to the whole community and it will not be tolerated.”
Meanwhile, Andre Walker from the U.K’s TalkRadio told The Argus, “I am disgusted that the BBC broadcast this. The man in question made a boastful claim to have ripped a valuable piece of artwork off a wall in Brighton. In doing so, he stole from the city, caused damage to the lido and denied the people of Brighton the ability to enjoy this work of art.”
Walker added, “I have contacted both the police and the city council. I sincerely hope they will intervene and ensure that this painting is returned to the city and the man involved is properly dealt with. Brighton is known as a center for art and culture, and that fact makes this theft even more offensive.”
Sussex Police said they’d received no reports of the stolen Banksy. But it would seem that there’s still a moral to the story, which was perhaps put into words best by Maas. Speaking on the Antiques Roadshow he said, “I think the message here is, that if you do see a piece of graffiti art out there, leave it. Leave it for the public.”