Banksy Nazi picture auctioned for N.Y. charity

AFP-JIJI

British artist Banksy has donated a “vandalized” oil painting to a New York thrift shop to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for HIV patients and the homeless.

It was the latest stunt in the graffiti superstar’s monthlong pop-up New York street exhibition, which has fascinated hipsters and enraged critics.

Bought from and donated back to a charity shop run by Housing Works, which provides life-saving services to the homeless and HIV/AIDS patients, an online bidding war was fought for the painting. Bids opened at $74,000, with some people expecting them to reach $1 million, on the site www.biddingforgood.com.

The price jumped by several hundred thousand dollars in the final moments, and the painting sold for $615,000 on Thursday evening. The identity of the buyer was not immediately known.

Artwork by the England-based graffiti maestro, who has never been formally identified, can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars in upmarket galleries.

Rebecca Edmondson, public relations director at Housing Works, described the gift as “pretty exciting” and said all money raised would go to its charity programs.

“We’re constantly, constantly looking for funding . . . so anytime we get something so unexpected, so generous that can provide such immediate help . . . that’s always just a real gift to all of us and to our clients,” she said.

The gift was dropped off anonymously at the Housing Works store in chic Gramercy Park where two months earlier a customer had bought the original canvas for $50.

To the landscape of a lake, snow-capped mountains and autumnal trees, Banksy painted in a bench and a Nazi soldier sitting with his back to the viewer.

He renamed the picture “The Banality of the Banality of Evil,” and under the signature of the original artist, “K. Sager,” he added his own “Banksy” flourish.

It has been hung back in the Housing Works shop on East 23rd Street.

Edmondson said Housing Works had no idea who originally bought the painting but said a woman returned it Tuesday morning.

“Pretty much simultaneously, someone from the Banksy team contacted our visual team, which does our stores and windows, to let us know that it was authentic.”

It was Banksy’s intention to auction it off, Edmondson said.

Housing Works, one of the biggest grass-roots aid organizations in New York, sees it as Banksy’s way of donating something of benefit for people in the city.

“We’re now (at) more than $200,000. A couple of art folks have said to us this could go for a million. Already we’re happy,” Edmondson said before the auction closed.

Banksy posted photographs of the painting on his website, www.banksyny.com, and his Instagram account, which each day announces his pop-up exhibition.