New Banksy work on show in British hometown after removal row

LONDON (AFP) - A new work by British street artist Banksy will go on public display in his home city after a row over ownership of the painting, which features two lovers embracing as they gaze at their mobile phones, officials said on Thursday.

The piece dubbed Mobile Lovers was found at the weekend on a wooden plank that had been screwed onto a boarded-up doorway in Bristol, western England.

Members of a youth club discovered the artwork near their building amid a search sparked when an image of the piece appeared on Banksy's website, with no indication of its location.

Club manager Dennis Stinchcombe took it off the wall and installed it in a corridor of the Broad Plains Boys Club for visitors to see, saying he planned to sell the work to raise funds to keep the club open.

But Bristol City Council said that it owned the wall onto which Mobile Lovers was attached and that the painting therefore belonged to it.

After a meeting with police, Stinchcombe handed the artwork over to the authorities, who now plan to display it at a gallery in the city over the Easter weekend.

"It certainly would have been a cultural crime if this artwork had been lost to the city," Bristol Mayor George Ferguson said.

"I'm delighted that Dennis, who is a good man, has made a tough judgment call and has turned over the artwork to us, via the police. No one's the bad guy here, we simply need to buy time to establish where ownership lies, what Banksy's intentions might be, if we were to get some signals, and how best we can move forward."

The mayor said he would ask Banksy to provide a limited edition print to raise money for the club, which needs £120,000 (S$250,000) to survive, while the council would produce postcards and prints for sale to provide further funds.

Stinchcombe said he first spotted Mobile Lovers on Monday but did not realise its authenticity until Tuesday, then decided to remove it from the wall because he was worried that the piece would be vandalised or stolen.

He said before handing it over that the artwork was "like a gift from out of the sky", adding: "I think Banksy's given it to us as a gift."

The artwork was discovered days after another possible Banksy work depicting three secret agents in trenchcoats listening to a phone booth was discovered in the nearby town of Cheltenham, home to Britain's electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ.

Banksy's stenciled designs, known for their irreverent humour and political activism, have propelled him from a graffiti rebel to reluctant star whose work sells for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

One of his most famous works is painted on the Israeli separation wall and depicts a young girl flying away while clasping a bunch of balloons.

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