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The small city (population 5,629) is a retirement haven in northern Palm Beach County. Last week, a New Times reader noticed this mural artwork on the wall of a vacant space inside the Village Square strip mall off of U.S. 1 and Coconut Road.
The alleged Banksy work depicts a ruby-slipperless, black-and-white Dorothy from the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz, along with her terrier, Toto, and she's carrying a picket sign that reads, "MGM STUDIOS HAVE COPYRIGHT AUTHORITY OVER MY SLIPPERS FOR 120 YEARS." According to a 2008 article in Forbes magazine, the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the film are now among the most treasured and valuable film memorabilia in movie history.
According to our tipster, the piece appeared around the last week of March at 221 U.S. 1, about two doors down from Vulcano's Italian Restaurant. The tipster eats at Vulcano's frequently and noticed it in between recent visits.
The work matches Banksy's style. The clean stenciled lines, pop-cultural reference, and satirical social commentary in the graffiti mural are all characteristic of the anonymous art superstar's works.
Jill Weisberg, a street art curator from Hollywood, Florida, looked at the image and speculated in an email, "While aesthetically this looks like a Banksy, I am not sure that it really is. The content has to do with copyright issues, which is a concept that he has worked with; however, it's about an American movie, and it does not seem to me like something that is very concerning or controversial. In my experience, his concepts are brilliant and tend to explore absurdism, human rights issues, consumerism, and just plain silliness. Also, the location seems quite random, and although it's not at all impossible, I believe that if he came into the South Florida region he would do a random spot closer to Miami."
Still, Banksy has incorporated the Wizard of Oz theme in the past: A piece attributed to him that's known as Stop and Search shows Dorothy being stopped and her picnic basket searched by an officer in riot gear.
Banksy has in the past warned of hundreds of fakes being attributed to him. The artist established a means for his work to be verified through a handling service called Pest Control. The service has not responded to an inquiry asking whether the work is real or fake, and its website states, "Please be aware that because many Banksy pieces are created in an advanced state of intoxication the authentication process can be lengthy and challenging." Attempts to reach Banksy via email got no response. His agent in London says it's unlikely a Banksy work but possible.
Jody Armstrong, senior property manager with NAI Global, which manages the Village Square shopping plaza in Tequesta, says: "This was done without permission and is in violation of the Village of Tequesta's code. This is defacing public space, and we will get fined."
She continued: "It just showed up — we were flabbergasted. We have no idea who did it or why. If someone wanted to discuss with our permission, we may have done something like this. No matter how nice it looks — we're just having it removed because of the Village."
Armstrong's team painted over the mural last week.
Apart from the controversial appearance of a stolen Banksy mural in a Miami auction last month (the piece, titled Slave Labour, was later withdrawn from the auction after a public outcry to return it to its London home), there are no signs that the artist has been active in Florida in recent weeks. Unless, of course, he stopped by to rave hard at the Ultra Music Festival; pal around with Greg Norman or Celine Dion, who have homes nearby; or his grandma owns a condo on the beach.
Many people have tried to figure out Banksy's identity. The Daily Mail theorized that his real name is Robin Gunningham. But there are competing theories as well. In any case, the is-it-or-isn't-it-a-Banksy debate makes a fun guessing game and is probably the most exciting thing to happen in Tequesta since... ever.