Oct 10, 2019

Banksy painting cashes in on Brexit mess

"Devolved Parliament," by Banksy. Photo: Sotheby's

One of the few winners from the Brexit mess was the anonymous consignor of “Devolved Parliament,” a Banksy painting that sold for £9.9 million, or $12.1 million, a few days ago at Sotheby’s in London.

The big picture: The painting is a decade old, but it has never been more timely, given that the only politician disliked more than Prime Minister Boris Johnson is the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.

By the numbers: The painting easily set a new auction record for Banksy, whose previous record was $1.9 million that was set at a charity auction for a Damien Hirst collaboration.

  • Auction records have also been smashed recently by another street artist, KAWS, whose “The Kaws Album” sold for $14.7 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in April. His previous auction record was $2.7 million.
  • Yoshitomo Nara’s “Knife Behind Back” sold for an astonishing $25 million this week at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. That's more than 5 times his previous auction record.

These might be highbrow prices, but they are not highbrow paintings. “The Kaws Album” and “Devolved Parliament” are not-very-funny, one-note jokes, while “Knife Behind Back” is an oversized cartoon figure. Art gadfly Kenny Schachter has given this trend a name: "infantilism."

Why these artworks are so expensive: Part of the reason is relatively mundane: All 3 canvases are old-fashioned paintings, and all of them are unusually large.

  • There's also supply and demand. These artists have large fan bases, and the top 0.01% of those fan bases will want to own strikingly large unique works. All you need is 2 rich collectors duking it out in an auction room for a single piece, and a crazy new record is set.

Simplicity sells. In the modern era, each successive generation of artists has generally become easier to understand and appreciate.

  • Take an old master: Try to unpack the layers and craftsmanship in “Las Meninas” by Velázquez.
  • Then look at, say, “The Dance” by Matisse. The “difficulty level” has clearly gone down, not up.
  • Then fast-forward to Pollock’s drip paintings, Warhol’s Marilyns, and finally the cartoonish stylings of Jeff Koons or Meow Wolf. Each is simpler, more universal, more easily grokked, more exportable than the last. You need less and less specific cultural context or connoisseurship to appreciate these works.

The bottom line: As the world of art collectors has expanded and globalized, the minimum level of sophistication that an artwork needs in order to fetch 8 figures at auction has clearly been falling.

Go deeper: The art of ocean trash

Go deeper

The wreckage of summer

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We usually think of Memorial Day as the start of the summer, with all of the fun and relaxation that goes with it — but this one is just going to remind us of all of the plans that have been ruined by the coronavirus.

Why it matters: If you thought it was stressful to be locked down during the spring, just wait until everyone realizes that all the traditional summer activities we've been looking forward to are largely off-limits this year.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,410,228 — Total deaths: 345,105 — Total recoveries — 2,169,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.