Artist Andy Link claims sculpture was stolen from him and is being sold illegally at Sothebys

A British artist claims that a 1m Banksy sculpture that is the centrepiece of a contemporary art auction this week was stolen from him and is being sold illegally.

The Drinker is a subversive nod to Rodins The Thinker, the famous statue of a man lost in thought with his chin resting on his hand. Banksys sculpture has a similar posture, but the man seems collapsed in a drunken slump, with a traffic cone on his head. The piece was left in a small square off Shaftesbury Avenue in central London in 2004, placed there without planning permission, like almost all Banksys public work.

Artist Andy Link, who also goes by the moniker Art Kieda, kidnapped the piece from its plinth, registered his find with police, and contacted Banksy for a ransom. The artist offered 2 towards a can of petrol to set the piece on fire; Link kept it in his garden.

Three years later the sculpture more than 6ft high and very heavy was taken from Links garden while he was away. He went to the police to report the theft.

The statue reappeared this autumn in the Sothebys auction catalogue for the 19 November Contemporary Curated sale, with an estimated sale price of 750,000 to 1m, the most expensive item in the sale.

Sothebys said it was satisfied the seller had a legal right to put the piece up for auction. It said: We consulted both the Metropolitan Police and the Art Loss Register.

Sothebys sale notes say the work was retrieved suggesting it was taken from Link by Banksy or his associates. The work was mysteriously retrieved from Art Kiedas lock-up in an anonymous heist which left AK47 [Link] with nothing but the abandoned traffic cone from atop The Drinkers head, the catalogue said.

Banksy items are usually only sold as authentic if they carry a certificate of authenticity from Pest Control, which handles enquiries for the anonymous artist. Representatives for Banksy declined to comment.

Link said that, as the statue had been abandoned on the street, he had registered it with police, and Banksy had not asked for it back, his ownership should be clear. I did the right thing, and reported it to the police, he said, detailing the documents and case numbers he has kept over more than a decade. I do not understand how Sothebys can sell this when I have such proof.

But he said he could not afford to challenge the sale. Lawyers are asking from 18,000 up just to take the case on, and Im a struggling artist, just a working-class bloke. The police should be looking into this, he said.

The police said: The Met does not have an active criminal investigation into this matter.



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