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Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Credit…Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA, via Shutterstock

KYIV, Ukraine — Many Ukrainians saw messages of defiance and resilience in the seven artworks painted last month by British street artist Banksy on war-torn buildings in and around Kiev.

At least one activist saw another kind of benefit: He removed one of the works, saying he intended to auction it off and donate the proceeds to the Ukrainian army.

The activist, Serhiy Dovhyi, says he is now under criminal investigation for removing work from a wall in the Kyiv suburb of Hostomel. The depiction, of a woman in a bathrobe wearing a gas mask and holding a fire extinguisher, suggests the intrusion of war into home life. A Ukrainian art dealer has estimated the work to be worth up to $1 million.

Under wartime authorities, the Ukrainian military appoints local leaders. The military-appointed chief of Hostomel told local media that the art should either go to a future war memorial or remain on the site, to become part of a future building.

It is not the first time that ownership of one of Banksy’s works has been disputed. In 2014, a painting by Banksy appeared on a piece of plywood secured to the Broad Plain Boys Club in Bristol, England. The club’s owner, Dennis Stinchcombe, planned to auction the painting to raise money for the club, but the town intervened, claiming that he owned the depiction. a couple hugging and looking at their cell phones. In a rare public move, Banksy wrote a letter saying the art should be used to help the club.

In the Ukraine dispute, Mr. Dovhyi said in an interview that the artwork had to be saved because the wall it was painted on was scheduled to be demolished soon. He described the act of removing the graffiti, which he documented on video, as an additional act of performance art that could increase its value.

Mr Dovhyi cut the graffiti from the wall in Hostomel on December 2 by removing a layer of insulation from the exterior of the dilapidated building. .

“Street art, unlike a piece of art in the Louvre, does not belong to anyone,” he said.

Credit…Ed Ram/Getty Images
Credit…Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA, via Shutterstock

In any case, the action succeeded in sparking a debate in the Ukraine about the future of local Banksy works. The art appeared in the suburban towns of Hostomel, Irpin and Borodyanka, where hundreds of civilians died early in the war in air and artillery attacks and summary executions.

For nearly two decades, Banksy has maintained his anonymity while creating art, often with social and political overtones, in New York City, London, the West Bank, and many other places.

Banksy’s work has also included stunts. In 2018, her painting “Girl with a Balloon” self-destructed in a remote-controlled shredder moments after Sotheby’s in London auctioned it off for $1.4 million. The apparent commentary on the excesses of the art market only increased the value of the work: Retitled “Love is in the trash”, Sotheby’s resold it last year. for $25.4 million.

But Banksy also does his best to regulate the resale of his graffiti and prevent forgery, working with a team that authenticates his work. Reputable dealers and auction houses sell Banksy works only with certification.

Banksy has already sold art to benefit Ukraine. In March, she donated the proceeds from the sale of a painting to the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital in kyiv.

Mr. Dovhyi argued that the needs of the army during the war justified the attempt to sell the painting of the woman in a bathrobe. “I wanted to capitalize as much as possible,” he said, “and all the money would go to humanitarian and military purposes.”

But the police showed up shortly after he cut the art off the wall, confiscated the insulation slab and questioned Mr. Dovhyi and others in his group. Mr. Dovhyi said that the police told him that the investigation falls under an article of the penal code that deals with damage to property less serious than vandalism. He has not been charged.

evelina riabenko contributed reporting.

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