As part of his month-long residence, UK street artist extraordinaire Banksy constructed a miniature sphinx out of cinderblocks in Queens. Made from crumbling, discarded material, the diminutive creature presided over a vacant lot cluttered with stagnant water and trash – until it was stolen, that is. The work was reportedly nabbed earlier in the week by a gallery representative who brazenly dismantled the installation piece by piece and loaded it onto a vehicle.
Over the past month, New York City has become a living canvas for the mysterious artist. His works have ranged from 2D graffiti to mobile truck installations, each portraying a dark sense of humor and underlying critical take on modern culture. As a part of his “Better Out Than In” series, Banksy’s newest creation tackles international politics.
“Everything but the kitchen Sphinx. A 1/36 scale replica of the great Sphinx of Giza made from smashed cinderblocks. You’re advised not to drink the replica Arab spring water,” writes the artist on his website.
The piece is a cheeky commentary on the state of political upheaval in the Middle East. Safely situated in the United States, his sculpture does not pack the same amount of punch as it would in its land of origin. Whether mocking a social revolution or simply an excuse for a pun, the piece is in line with the artist’s propensity to use visual metaphor and landscape to take a swing at civilization.
The miniature monument and the attention it has attracted is another example of how celebrity can shine a spotlight on public art. According to the New York Post, the owner of a nearby auto glass shop was hired by a gallery representative to dismantle the sphinx. A block from the base was said to have fetched $100. As reported in Forbes, under New York law, the team assembled by the glass shop could face charges of larceny if the rightful owner were to exercise control. Since the sculpture is valued at over $1,000, they could potentially face grand larceny charges, a hefty fine, and even prison time. US copyright law and the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 allows Banksy to bring civil copyright infringement complaints against the perpetrators. However, due to his decision to remain anonymous, it is doubtful whether Banksy would make a formal complaint.