Banksy work sells for record $17m

The 2009 oil painting titled Devolved Parliament measures 4.2m by 2.5m unframed.
The 2009 oil painting titled Devolved Parliament measures 4.2m by 2.5m unframed.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • A Banksy painting depicting the British parliament populated by chimpanzees smashed the record for the mysterious British street artist on Thursday, fetching nearly £9.9 million (S$17 million), Sotheby's auction house said.

The 2009 work titled Devolved Parliament sold for £9,879,500 following a 13-minute battle among 10 bidders.

"Record price for a Banksy painting set at auction tonight. Shame I didn't still own it," the artist said on his Instagram account.

The previous auction record for a Banksy artwork was US$1.87 million, achieved by Keep It Spotless at Sotheby's New York in 2008.

Devolved Parliament was expected to fetch £1.5 million to £2 million in Thursday's sale.

The oil painting measures 4.2m by 2.5m unframed - the largest known canvas by the artist. It shows chimpanzees on the green benches of the House of Commons, from the viewpoint of the main entrance.

The sale comes after the controversial five-week suspension of Britain's parliament by Prime Minister Boris Johnson was deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court, with time running out before Britain is due to leave the European Union (EU) on Oct 31.

Parliament was due to return on Oct 14, but instead reconvened on Sept 25 after Britain's highest court quashed the suspension. When it returned, members of parliament spent their time angrily arguing over the suspension, then arguing about whether their language in doing so was too strong.

House Speaker John Bercow said they were the most toxic scenes he had seen in his 22 years in the elected lower chamber.

"Inevitably, what we have been seeing in the Houses of Parliament over the last few months and weeks has become a daily soap opera, not just in the UK... but also across the rest of Europe and indeed the world," Mr Alex Branczik, Sotheby's European head of contemporary art, said ahead of the sale.

"What he's pointing to here is the regression of the oldest parliamentary democracy in the world into tribalistic animalistic behaviour, the sort we've seen broadcasted on our televisions," said Mr Branczik. "The real genius of Banksy is his ability to reduce this incredibly complex debate into one single simple image, which importantly is readily shared in this age of social media and an image-consuming population."

Banksy first unveiled the painting, then titled Question Time, a decade ago for an exhibition in his home city of Bristol in south-west England.

He later reworked and retitled the painting, snuffing out the lights and making an upturned banana face downwards.

The seller bought the painting from Banksy in 2011.

"Potent and poignant, bold and brash, Banksy's monumental oil painting of the House of Commons offers a premonitory insight into the increasingly tumultuous face of politics in contemporary Britain," the sale catalogue says.

"His derisive art has provoked divisive opinion, but love him or hate him, his wide-reaching influence on contemporary art and urban culture cannot be denied."

It also notes: "This work is accompanied by a pest-control certificate."

Banksy got the painting out again for March 29 this year, when Britain was originally due to leave the EU.

Thursday's auction took place almost a year after Banksy's Girl With The Balloon partially shredded itself as the hammer came down at Sotheby's, becoming the freshly titled Love Is In The Bin.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2019, with the headline 'Banksy work sells for record $17m'. Print Edition | Subscribe