Although notoriously anonymous, everyone knows Banksy, the controversial British artist who brings shock value to art. From iconic street art to a recent mid-sale art exhibition, Banksy can’t seem to stay out of the headlines.
Banksy’s Devolved Parliament recently sold for a record-breaking $12,200,000. Here, we’re exploring the painting and why this sale is important.
Banksy created Devolved Parliament ten years ago in 2009 for the Banksy vs. Bristol Museum exhibition. It’s the largest piece the artist has made at 13 feet and was originally titled Question Time.
The satirical oil painting depicts the House of Commons filled with chimpanzees. The reworked canvas debuted in Bristol in March to commemorate the first missed Brexit deadline. The original piece was first seen the day before the first “Brexit Day” but the anonymous artist changed a few details.
In the Devolved Parliament version, the lamps in the House of Commons were extinguished and the banana held by one of the chimps was turned upside down. If nothing else, it’s a poignant depiction of the perceived state of politics in Britain.
Devolved Parliament sold at an auction in London for £9,879,500 or $12,200,000. Sotheby’s estimated the piece to sell between £8,379,500 and £7,879,500 but the work outsold the estimate by millions.
Previously, the highest-selling work by Banksy was for Keep It Spotless which went for $1,870,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2008.
In March, just before Devolved Parliament went on display, Banksy posted this on Instagram: “I made this ten years ago. Bristol Museum have just put it back on display to mark Brexit day. Laugh now, but one day no one will be in charge.”
This ominous warning is a nod to both the continuing Brexit chaos happening in Britain and his 2002 painting that depicted a row of chimpanzees wearing aprons that read, “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge.”
Back in October 2018, another Banksy sale was making the news. At Sotheby’s the artist coordinated an epic and elaborate stunt when just after his piece, Girl with Red Balloon sold for $1.4 million, it was partially shredded right there in the auction room using a hidden shredder embedded in the frame. It was renamed Love is in the Bin.
Sotheby’s referred to the incident as “the first time artwork has been created during a live sale.”
Banksy and Brexit
It’s no secret that the state of politics today is in a state of disarray. Between Trump and “fake news” in the States and Brexit in Great Britain, let’s just say that most people are either on one side or another.
While this is not the place to get political, it’s obvious that Banksy has made a statement in Devolved Parliament. From its name to its contents, it’s clear who the artist feels runs the House of Commons.
Banksy’s former agent Steve Lazarides said that Devolved Parliament’s buyer must have seen more than just monetary value in the painting, otherwise, why wouldn’t they have just invested in gold?
Although the new owner of Banksy’s most expensive painting is unknown to the public, perhaps the purchase was a sign of solidarity and a further message to the British government about what its people think of them and the turmoil of Brexit.
In addition to the sale of Devolved Parliament, it’s rumored that Banksy will begin selling merchandise as part of an installation in Croydon, south London. On Instagram, a flyer for the exhibit was titled “Gross Domestic Product” and read: “This shop has come about as a result of legal action. A greeting cards company is trying to seize legal custody of the name Banksy from the artist, who has been advised the best way to prevent this is to sell his own range of branded merchandise.”
Knowing Banksy, surely that’s not the whole story and there’s bound to be some sort of twist associated with the merch. From here, we’ll just have to wait and see what the anonymous artist gets up to next.