Lot 219
  • 219

BANKSY | Monkey Detonator

150,000 - 250,000 GBP
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  • Banksy
  • Monkey Detonator
  • stencilled with the artist’s name on the right overturn edge of the right canvas
  • stencil spray paint and emulsion on canvas, in two parts
  • each: 76 by 76 cm. 36 1/4 by 36 1/4 in.
  • Executed in 2002.


Private Collection, Europe
Bonhams, London, 17 April 2013, Lot 38
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality has more blue undertones in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals some faint rub marks to the extreme edges of the left canvas and two small spots of media: one to the lower right quadrant and one just above the safe. Very close inspection of the right hand canvas reveals some faint rub marks to the extreme edges and two tiny specks of media in the centre of the centre of the composition. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra-violet light on either canvas.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Mythical, laconic and charged with latent insight, Monkey Detonator is a playful and iconic piece of neo-conceptual art by the iconoclastic British artist Banksy. Stencilled in the act of a dynamic gesture, the monkey is poised in the instant before a violent explosion. The viewer’s expectations, however, are subverted upon seeing the bananas to which the detonator is attached: the monkey is – unbeknownst to him – destroying what he needs in pursuit of what he thinks he needs. The Banksy effect is palpable. We are immediately imbued with the sense of a hidden meaning, and we turn to the symbols in front of us for its derivation and discovery.

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.