Sotheby’s Is Preparing to Sell an Early Banksy Sculpture—But Now the Secretive Street Artist’s Nemesis Says That He’s the Rightful Owner

A Banksy work that was stolen almost 15 years ago has resurfaced at Sotheby's with a $1.3 million high estimate.

Banksy's The Drinker (2004). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

A strange story involving Banksy and not one, but two, art heists just got a little bit stranger. Sotheby’s London is preparing to sell Banksy’s satirical sculpture The Drinker—but on the eve of the sale, another artist has come forward claiming he is the rightful owner of the work, having swiped it himself fair and square nearly 15 years ago.

Banksy’s 2004 sculpture The Drinker is hitting the block at Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale on November 19 with an estimate of £750,000 to £1 million ($970,950 to $1.29 million). But Adam Link, the leader of the art group Art Kieda, who purloined the work from its perch in London back in 2004, claims it was illegally removed from his property.

The humorous six-foot-tall work is a twist on Rodin’s The Thinker—except in Banksy’s version, the sculpture swaps a pensive philosopher hunched over in thought for a slumped-over drunkard (complete with an orange traffic cone balanced precariously on his head). Around two years after it was first installed in 2004, Link (who also goes by the name AK47) took the work from the small square at Shaftesbury Avenue in London. And two years after that, The Drinker was stolen again—from Link’s back garden. All that was left was the traffic cone.

The work in Sotheby’s sale has been updated with a new cone and the auction house details the nearly too-weird-to-be-true history of the work in its description of the lot. The provenance lists the artist and Steven Lazarides, Banksy’s former art dealer, as previous owners before the sculpture changed hands again in 2014. There is no mention of Link.

Self-proclaimed British ‘art-terrorist’ and leader of an art movement called ‘Art Kieda’ or ‘AK47’, Andy Link, poses for a photograph after re-installing a version of Banksy’s sculpture entitled “The Drinker.” Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via via Getty Images.

Now, Link claims that the work is in the sale illegally. He argues that he found it “abandoned” on the street and registered it with police. He also sent Banksy a ransom note, asking for around $6,500 or an original canvas to cover his costs. “I did the right thing, and reported it to the police,” Link told the Guardian. “I do not understand how Sotheby’s can sell this when I have such proof.” However, Link says that he cannot afford the lawyer’s fees to challenge the sale.

Is this a case of double jeopardy? Can the same work be stolen twice? Sotheby’s says the work was “retrieved” from Link’s property, which suggests that the work was perhaps recovered by a group affiliated with Banksy himself. In a conversation with The Art Newspaper, Lazarides likened Link’s complaint to “crying that the bigger boys have stolen his ball.” (He also described the work as “the worst sculpture [Banksy] ever made.”)

A representative for Banksy did not respond to a request for comment by publication time, but Sotheby’s told Artnet News in a statement that it is “satisfied that the seller has a legal right to put the piece up for auction.” The auction house also noted it had contacted both the Met Police and the Art Loss Register before offering the work for sale.

Banksy’s high-profile works have been wildly outperforming estimates at auction recently. Chimp Parliament sold at Sotheby’s for a staggering $12 million in October. Another work, called Love is in the Bin, self-shredded after its sale at Sotheby’s in 2018, where it sold for $1.4 million.

In 2015, Link installed a replica of The Drinker in central London called The Stinker. His version included a toilet seat, cistern, and graffiti. The sculpture’s bizarre backstory is also featured in the 2016 documentary The Banksy Job.

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