Earlier this year, a gallery opened up in the East Village called VolaVida. The space has hosted several exhibits since then, but it’s their latest group show which might prove to be its most controversial yet. “The Big Payback,” opening tonight, advertises work for sale by famed international street artists Banksy and Space Invader. So, how did the new gallery on the block score work by some of the most well-known and elusive practitioners of public art? Without their permission.
The so-called Banksy art is actually comprised of artifacts that surrounded a WikiLeaks-inspired vehicular installation that the artist unveiled during his month long residency in New York. VolaVida founders Maurice Whitaker and Laura K. Reich acquired the props from artist Clockwork Cros, who’s also in the show, and said that he lifted the objects from the empty lot on Ludlow Street where Banksy originally created the piece.
The Invader was reportedly extracted from a Manhattan building adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge, but without a certificate of authenticity, which the artist won’t give, it’s tough to confirm its legitimacy. VolaVida said that a man with a hot spatula scraped off the mosaic, a tribute to the 8-bit classic arcade game from which the French street artist took his name. After making a brief appearance on eBay, where it didn’t sell, it’s now for sale by way of a “private collector.”
In an interview with ANIMAL and in a statement on his own site, Invader has made it very clear that the work he puts on the street belongs on the street. The nostalgia-inducing artist even said he’d rather see his work be destroyed than salvaged. Having consent from the artists to sell their work, however, isn’t paramount to VolaVida. “They didn’t have consent to put it up, but this is not about greed. We are a gallery, we support street art,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker believes Banksy and Invader are foreigners whose public art drives up the real estate market. “Not that it makes a difference, but they are not from this country,” reasoned Whitaker. “We respect their art, but they are gentrifying neighborhoods, people are losing their apartments.”
VolaVida said they plan on donating “a portion of the proceeds” of the Banksy and the Invader to Go LES, a non-profit organization that helps local low-income families. “It’s just a good thing to use their stuff and give back,” said Whitaker. The gallery wouldn’t commit to an exact percentage and still isn’t quite sure for how much they’ll sell the pieces for. “We have a starting price, but we will have a conversation with someone that’s actually serious,” he said.
But more exciting, is news that graffiti-bombing artist DEBT is making his gallery debut. “I’m tired of seeing regular shit in these galleries,” he said. “It’s a good plug, you get to network with people that thought they’d never meet you or get your work.” When asked if he had concerns about the gallery using two household names in street art to promote a show he’s in, DEBT didn’t seem to mind. “I like Banksy and Space Invader’s work,” he said. “It’s a good look.”
(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)