Want to buy a Banksy? This building comes with it

In 2010, while in town for the Los Angeles premiere of his documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, British street artist Banksy left a gift for fans: a mural of a girl on a swing, dangling beneath the 5-foot red "A" of the word "PARKING" on a gritty downtown lot.

Now that girl - as well as the historic building in the downtown fashion district that serves as her canvas - is for sale to the highest bidder.

Banksy's painting, known to fans as both Swing Girl and Girl on a Swing, adorns an exterior wall of 908-910 S Broadway, an art deco mid-rise building with a storied silver-screen past. Its designers, Meyer & Holler, are the team behind some of Tinseltown's best-known buildings, including Grauman's Chinese and Egyptian theatres. Built in 1914 just as the silent-film era was reaching its peak, the structure first housed L.L. Burns' Western Costume Co, from which nearly every movie of the era sourced its garments.

Later on, the building would step into the spotlight itself, appearing in the iconic clock scene of the 1923 silent film Safety Last! with Harold Lloyd.

In 2007, the building was purchased by Tarina Tarantino and Alfonso Campos, owners of the Tarina Tarantino accessories brand (she is the designer and face of the company; he serves as chief executive). They paid US$4 million for the edifice, which comprises 7 stories and 26,000 square feet, and rechristened it The Sparkle Factory. Its top floor became a showroom for the accessories brand, and the couple began taking tenants for the other floors. Over the next 10 years, they spent roughly US$1.8 million on a renovation that included the elevators and electrical and plumbing systems.

The downtown fashion district has changed, too: after a decade of gentrification, there's a West Elm, a Whole Foods and an Ace Hotel among its neighbours, and the surrounding streets are chockablock with vegan restaurants and cafes serving pistachio-milk lattes.

But the pandemic hit downtown Los Angeles hard, and as restaurants and shops closed their doors, tenants pulled out of leases. Tarantino and Campos filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April, and on Oct 6, as part of that filing, the building will be sold at auction.

In court filings related to the bankruptcy, the couple said they believe the building is worth US$16 million, not including the mural. Calculating the art's added value is not easy.

"This isn't your typical real estate transaction," Campos said. "We understand the intrinsic value that the Banksy adds to the building."

There is the possibility that an owner could purchase the building in order to remove and then sell the mural. Banksy works have been cut from buildings and sold in the past - Crowbar Girl fetched a rumoured US$2.4 million after a landlord in Suffolk, in England, sliced it off the side of an electrical shop and sold it privately.

But Jeffrey Deitch, an American art dealer and curator, said the idea of even considering the Banksy mural as separate from the building was impossible.

"It would be terrible if this is removed and then put on the market," he noted. "This is free public art. It is not meant to have a commercial value and be resold. That's not the intention of the artist."

Tarantino and Campos say that appraisers have been hesitant to give them a value for the building that incorporates the mural, but they are hopeful that it will fetch more than US$30 million.

"This is an extremely difficult property to value. You can't look at it from just a straight real estate appraisal value. You can't look at it from a straight art value. It's a combination of both," said Jeff Azuse, senior vice-president of Hilco Real Estate, which is representing the seller. "An auction, when you let the market determine the value, is very beneficial when it's difficult to put a value on a property or an asset."

Holly Dunlap, formerly the head of the Private Client Group at Sotheby's in London, estimated that based on its size alone - the mural is 12 feet by 33 feet - the Banksy could get at least US$10 million, and possibly many times that amount, on the private market, although she noted that auction houses like Sotheby's had been offered sawed-off Banksy murals in the past and refused to sell them.

"We would never touch that because it's not how the artist intended it to be sold," Dunlap said. "Whenever buildings have a Banksy on them, that Banksy is much more valuable on the building than it is as a piece of brick."

For a serious art buyer, then, "there's no way to own that Banksy - unless they were, of course, to buy the building", she said.

Bids are due by Oct 6, and according to Hilco, the building will be sold to the highest and best offer. NYTIMES

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