Banksy painting of chimps in the Commons sells for record £8.5m
A Banksy painting of chimpanzees presiding over the House of Commons has shattered auction records for the anonymous street artist, going under the hammer at Sotheby’s for £8.5m, excluding fees.
With British politics in tumult over Brexit, the sale of the satirical work painted in 2009 sparked aggressive bidding at the auction house’s London salerooms. Starting at £1m, bidding quickly focused on two telephone bidders and one in the room, as they tussled over the work for 13 minutes before one of the telephone bidders won out.
The eventual sale price for the oil painting — at 13ft (4m) wide, his biggest known work on canvas — far surpassed Banksy’s previous auction record. That was achieved for a Damien Hirst “spot” painting stencilled over by the graffiti artist, which went for $1.87m including fees in 2008.
The sale was closely watched, coming a year since the Bristolian artist executed an audacious prank on the art world, orchestrating the partial shredding of his work “Girl with Balloon” in the moments after its sale at Sotheby’s. The stunt used a remote-controlled mechanism hidden within the frame.
On Thursday night, the sale passed with no unscheduled interventions from the artist. However, the picture had sparked questions in the run-up to the sale after eagle-eyed viewers noticed discrepancies between the work as first displayed in Bristol Museum in 2009 and as shown for sale by Sotheby’s.
Bright lights hanging from the ceiling in the earlier painting had been extinguished in the later version and some of the bananas held by the chimpanzees were mysteriously turned downwards.
The auction house said the painting had been confirmed as the same work by Pest Control, Banksy’s authentication service, but had been “reworked” by the artist before returning to Bristol Museum for another show earlier this year. Originally called “Question Time”, it was retitled as “Devolved Parliament”.
Sotheby’s said it had been aware of the tweaks to the painting. “References to these changes were added to our online catalogue following confirmation from the artist’s authentication body,” it said.
Sotheby’s declined to identify the buyer. It said the work was sold by a private UK collector who had bought it from Banksy in 2011 and previously had it on display in his office. It had carried an estimate of £1.5m-£2m.
Banksy this week unveiled a shop in a disused carpet store in Croydon, displaying “impractical, bizarre and offensive merchandise” such as a police riot helmet repurposed as a disco ball and a £10 signed can of spray paint, carrying a warning that “some contents may be missing”.
The shop, named Gross Domestic Product™, will not open to visitors but they may see its “discomforting homewares” through the window for a two-week period and sales will be made online. The artist said in a statement he had been forced to create the venture after a dispute with a greetings cards company that was trying to trade on his name legally. He said he had been advised that he could defend his trademark rights by selling his own line of merchandise.
“I still encourage anyone to copy, borrow, steal and amend my art for amusement, academic research or activism,” he said. “I just don’t want them to get sole custody of my name.”