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

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House bill would mandate public auction of 5G airwaves

5G cellphone tower in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers dropped a bill Thursday directing the FCC to hold a public auction of coveted midband airwaves.

The big picture: The FCC is contemplating allowing a group of satellite companies to privately sell the airwaves to wireless companies for 5G service, amid opposition from cable companies and a now-bipartisan set of lawmakers.

Go deeperArrowOct 24, 2019

FCC's Pai to face lawmakers on sought-after 5G spectrum

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The debate over a proposed private sale of valuable airwaves that are key to companies' 5G plans will get aired before Congress Thursday.

Why it matters: Midband airwaves are coveted for 5G service because they can carry more data than lower-frequency spectrum while traveling greater distances than high-frequency airwaves.

  • Satellite companies, wireless providers and nearly every other sector the FCC regulates have been wrangling for months over midband spectrum known as the "C-band."
  • A Morgan Stanley research note this month estimated the C-band spectrum is worth between $10 billion and $30 billion.
Go deeperArrowOct 17, 2019

Beto O'Rourke campaign says it raised $4.5 million in Q3

Beto O'Rourke speaks at CNN's LGBTQ town hall on Oct. 10, 2019. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke's campaign said on Friday that it raised $4.5 million in Q3, which puts the candidate in the bottom rung of 2020 Democrats' fundraising for the quarter.

The state of play: Sen. Bernie Sanders currently leads all 2020 Democrats in Q3 fundraising with $25.3 million, followed by Elizabeth Warren with $24.6 million, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg with $19.1 million. President Trump's re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee recently said they raised a whopping $125 million for Q3, setting a new presidential fundraising record.

Go deeperArrowOct 12, 2019