Banksy frequently makes use of representations of animals, particularly those of rats and monkeys, which seem to anthropomorphise upon depiction. Serving to remind the unsuspecting viewer of the close analogies between primate and human behaviour, the monkey is a crucial motif in Banksy’s work. Just as humans destroy the very materials on which they depend to achieve obscure and unknown benefit, the monkey’s powerful jump betrays his unthinking faith in the contents of the safe. Like the bestiaries of La Fontaine or Aesop’s fables, the monkey appears precisely to embody an important truth about human nature.
In his distinctive politicised lexicon, Banksy makes extensive use of the stencil in Monkey Detonator. His characters feature in miniature, theatrical plays containing stencilled and re-contextualised objects. In an artistic protest that trivialises and mocks late capitalist greed, the potent explosive TNT in the present work is replaced by an innocuous bunch of bananas. Banksy complicates the standard process of decryption performed by the viewer in response to a conceptual artwork. While his works do often suggest ideas addressing economic and political power imbalances, they deliberately maintain a certain ambiguity. This space, this room for playful interpretation, also possesses a political motive; it grants the viewer with the very creative agency Banksy believes is quashed by the political system surrounding them. Banksy strikes a balance. An artwork without a critical message is intolerably apolitical, but an artwork that restricts viewer participation is just as oppressive as the very systems being criticised.
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