"You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist."
B anksy’s derisive portrayal of The House of Commons reduced to an assembly of parliamentary primates, found a new owner at the Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London on 3 October, just a mile away from The Palace of Westminster, and mere weeks ahead of the scheduled exit of Britain from the European Union. Spanning an impressive 13 feet, this is the largest known canvas by the anonymous street artist whose subversive practice has granted him a reputation of infamy as much as world renown.
The sale comes exactly a year after Banksy himself intervened in a Sotheby’s auction, when ‘the nation’s favourite artwork’ Girl with Balloon auto-destructed as the gavel came down on 5 October 2018, to become the freshly-titled Love is in the Bin, marking the first time an artwork has been created during a live sale.
Watch the bidding battle for Devolved Parliament
Born in Bristol in 1973, Banksy has become an international phenomenon for his dissident style, dark humour, and political commentary on all aspects of contemporary life – from the European immigration crisis, to climate change, the treatment of refugees, and most recently Brexit and the European Union.
His work fits firmly into the venerable history of political parody, from William Hogarth’s portrayal of the controversy, corruption and chaos of 18th century politics, to George Orwell’s revolutionary Animal Farm and the political cartoonists of today. In the artist’s own words: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” (a play on American satirist Finley Peter Dunne’s declaration that the duty of a newspaper is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”)
Banksy first unveiled the work, then called Question Time, a decade ago as part of his ground-breaking Banksy vs. Bristol Museum exhibition, which famously drew over 300,000 visitors to become one of the world’s top ten most-visited shows of 2009. The painting has since been reworked by the artist and more recently retitled. Once glowing, the Commons’ lamps have been snuffed-out by Banksy, while the upturned banana of an ape in the foreground now faces downwards; atop these and other subtle adjustments, the painting also bears a new name: Devolved Parliament.
More recently, the painting returned to the spotlight once again for another showing in Bristol to mark the date originally intended for “Brexit Day”, 29 March 2019. The artist took to Instagram at the time to explain: “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”".
Banksy’s Instagram recalls the first appearance of chimpanzees in his work, Laugh Now (2002), a painting which made headlines when it broke the artist’s auction record in 2008. Measuring six-metres long, the painting shows a row of subservient apes wearing aprons carrying the inscription ‘Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge’. The motif has since become one of Banksy’s most widely disseminated images. As the artist has remarked with characteristically dry wit: “You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist.”
The previous auction record for the artist stood at $1,870,000, achieved by Keep it Spotless at Sotheby’s New York in 2008.