A 2009 work by Banksy just made its biggest splash, yet, last night. Prior to the sale at Sotheby’s London, some were concerned that alterations to the work made by Banksy might deter bidders who thought the original painting might have a copy. However, when the gavel fell on the painting, it far exceeded its pre-auction estimate of £1.5 million to £2 million. In fact, it brought in nearly five times that setting an artist’s record for Banksy at nearly £10 million.
The painting, Devolved Parliament, was created in 2009 and it was included in a Bristol exhibition of works by the artist. After that exhibition, it was purchased from the artist by an anonymous collector. Since then, it’s remained in that collector’s hands, with a few alterations made by Banksy in the meantime. Then, on March 29th of this year, the painting went back on view at a Bristol museum to celebrate the painting turning 10 but also, for Brexit Day.
‘I made this 10 years ago,’ wrote Banksy in March on Instagram. ‘Bristol museum have just put it back on display to mark Brexit day. Laugh now, but one day no one will be in charge.’ The painting then came to auction and completely shattered Banksy’s auction record, which was previously held by a work called Keep It Spotless that sold at Sotheby’s in 2008 for £1.4 million. In response, Banksy once again took to Instagram posting a quote from Robert Hughes, an art critic who died in 2012, that questions the cost of art. The quote only seems more and more fitting for the art world as auction prices soar and hype around a work is amped up at the right time to create a buzz, just watch one of the videos for the sale of the Salvator Mundi. In the same post, Banksy wrote, ‘Record price for Banksy painting set at auction tonight. Shame I didn’t still own it.’
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The sale of Devolved Parliament comes just about a year after Banksy shocked auction-goers when he shredded Girl With Balloon just seconds after it sold. At last night’s auction, there must have been a few held breaths when the painting sold, as it was sold in the same room as Girl With Balloon, which is now entitled Love in the Bin. Both Banksy’s Instagram post quoting Hughes and his stunt pulled at auction last year highlight Banksy’s frustration with the money in the art world.
At the same time, the more Banksy seems to dig in his heels, the more popular and valuable the art becomes. After Banksy shredded his work last year, even though the shredding didn’t go totally to plan, its prospects increased. ‘The auction result will only propel [Banksy’s prices] further and, given the media attention this stunt has received, the lucky buyer would see a great return on the [£1.042m] they paid last night,’ said art broker John Syer after the 2018 sale. ‘This is now part of art history in its shredded state and we’d estimate Banksy has added, at a minimum, 50% to its value, possibly as high as being worth £2m-plus.’ The well-timed auction of Devolved Parliament and the adjustments the artist made to the painting that reflect the artist’s views on Brexit, only add to the hype around the artist. So, in the end, Banksy’s frustrations only fuel that which he tries to push back against.