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"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

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Credit: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

4 hours ago - World

Zelensky questions U.S. warnings of "imminent" invasion in Biden call

Biden and Zelensky at the White House last October. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a back-and-forth in their call this evening about just how "imminent" the threat of a Russian invasion might be, according to three sources briefed on the call.

Why it matters: Biden has said previously that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will probably "move in" to Ukraine, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday afternoon that "an invasion could come at any time."