LONDON (Reuters) - A spray-painted work by elusive British street artist Banksy is expected to fetch up to 100,000 pounds ($153,900) when it comes up for sale in London on Thursday at Bonhams auction house.
"Love is in the Air" is a mostly black-and-white image of a protester in the act of throwing a colourful bouquet of flowers. It features on the cover of Banksy's 2005 book "Wall and Piece" and has become one of his most famous street motifs.
"Prices for spray-paint canvases by Banksy in our recent auctions demonstrate that his works are more popular than ever with high-profile art collectors, reflecting the continuing fascination with his art amongst the public as a whole," Bonhams Contemporary Art Specialist Alan Montgomery said in a statement on Monday.
The work up for sale foreshadows the London protests, the Arab Spring and European demonstrations against government austerity programmes that have followed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. It also comes after a Banksy mural sparked controversy over the ownership of street art this year.
Banksy is a pseudonym for an English graffiti artist whose identity remains cloaked in secrecy. His trademark spray-paint stencils offering ironic social commentary are never verified, but they are hotly sought after by collectors.
Although the provenance of this piece of Banksy art has been established by Bonhams, a mural of his taken from the wall of a retail chain's outlet in north London came in for criticism when it was put up for sale earlier this year.
"Banksy: Slave Labour", which shows a young boy kneeling at a sewing machine with Union Jack bunting, was stripped from the wall of a Poundland store. Locals in the store's north London neighbourhood created an uproar in the international media when it vanished and then surfaced at an auction in Miami this year.
It was pulled from the Miami auction in February at the last minute, but was sold earlier this month at a private auction in London, according to media reports.
Bonhams Contemporary Art and Design sale on Thursday also features other British artists. Spin paintings by Damien Hirst, two ‘Postcard Sculptures' by Gilbert and George as well as a sculpture and drawing by Tracey Emin are among the 129 lots.
A host of other works from artists in Japan, India, France, China, Italy and American Jeff Koons, as well as furniture designs, including a yellow fibreglass chair shaped as a molar and a palm tree-shaped floor lamp are also up for sale.
Reporting by Paul Casciato; Editing by Michael Roddy