The otherwise mundane evening art sale at Sotheby’s saw a once-obscure street artist emerge as the rockstar of the event. Banksy’s work alone accounted for $12.2 million out of the total sales of $67.3 million witnessed at the event. Despite some artists making a breakthrough for the high-end bids, the slow art economy was very much evident in the evening.
Banksy made his career as a street artist, before being catapulted into fame and recognition. The work for auction at Sotheby’s was Devolved Parliament, depicting the UK parliament members as apes fighting over nothing. The satirical work was supposed to take a jibe at the Brexit drama going on in the country. There was a frenzy to get that piece, which was ultimately sold at $12.2 million. The record price for the evening was paid by a telephone bidder.
For Banksy, this sale was a new record, far exceeding his previous sale of $1.87 million for Keeping It Spotless in 2008. However, it is not clear who the seller of the painting is. Banksy denied still owning the painting, and the museum didn’t reveal the details of who owned it currently. Banksy did admit, however, of making some last-minute changes to the painting.
Despite the record-high price of Banksy’s work, the overall enthusiasm at the sale was dull. The high-end of the pre-sale estimate was put at $68.9 million, which the actual total sale barely managed to touch. Of the 39 works put to auction, only 16 managed to sell at more than $1 million. Five works failed to sell at a meagre buy-in set margin of 12.8 per cent. The other star artists of the sale were Jean-Michel Basquiat (who PYRO was sold at $12.2 million) and Francis Bacon (whose Figure with Monkey was sold at $3.4 million). However, the total sale at Sotheby’s was 52 per cent less than the amount of last year.