Art Market

Banksy’s massive painting of chimpanzee politicians could set a new auction record.

Wallace Ludel
Sep 17, 2019 4:45PM, via New York Times

Banksy, Devolved Parliament, 2009. Est. £1.5 million–£2 million ($1.9 million–$2.5 million). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Famed street artist Banksy has become even more of a market darling in the year since his October 2018 viral shredding stunt, in which his painting Girl With Balloon (2006) sold at Sotheby’s for £1 million ($1.3 million) then promptly shredded itself. The shredding mechanism, however, jammed halfway through and the winning bidder chose to keep the partially destroyed work, which was subsequently retitled Love is in the Bin. It is currently hanging alongside works by Rembrandt and Picasso at the Staatsgalerie museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

The shredding incident was followed by a spike in demand for the artist’s work. Almost exactly one year from the occasion, Banksy has a chance to break his auction record in the very same salesroom, as his 2009 painting titled Devolved Parliament will be auctioned off next month with a pre-sale estimate of £1.5 million ($1.9 million) to £2 million ($2.5 million). The current auction record for a Banksy was set by his riff on Damien Hirst, Keep it Spotless (2007), when it sold for $1.9 million at a Sotheby’s sale in 2008.

Though it was made in 2009, the painting, which depicts the U.K.’s House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament, run entirely by chimpanzees, finds new poignancy in the era of Brexit. The painting is more than 14 feet wide and was first displayed in a 2009 show at the Bristol Museum, titled “Banksy versus Bristol Museum,” which drew over 300,000 museum attendees. According to the artist’s Instagram, the work was reinstalled at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery earlier this year to mark Brexit day (though the date of the U.K.’s departure from the European Union was ultimately pushed back to October 31st).

While Banksy was the mind behind the shredding stunt, Sotheby’s noted that Devolved Parliament was “acquired from the artist by the present owner in 2011,” meaning that this secondary market sale is being conducted wholly independent of the artist himself. Banksy’s publicist doubled down and told the New York Times: “The painting in question is being sold by the owner who is in no way associated with the artist Banksy.” It will be offered at Sotheby’s evening sale of contemporary art on October 3rd in London.

Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s are currently holding online sales dedicated exclusively to Banksy prints, with estimates ranging from £4,000 to £250,000 ($5,000–$311,000). James Baskerville, the head of the 30-lot Banksy sale at Christie’s, told the Times:

Every time there’s a stunt in the media it peaks the prices. There’s been quite a steady rise over the last two years. [. . .] [The shredding stunt] really revived and refreshed the market. It has encouraged people to sell.

A fully-functioning shipping truck painted by the artist in early 2000 was offered by Bonhams earlier this month, but failed to reach its low estimate of £1 million ($1.2 million) and went unsold.

And how does Banksy feel about all this? In 2009, while discussing Devolved Parliament, he said: “You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist.”

Further Reading: Banksy Market Accelerates Following Shredding Stunt

Wallace Ludel