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Banksy's Disney 'execution' tops $120,000 at auction

By Laura Allsop for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Urban Art sale at Bonhams auction house in London includes works by Banksy
  • Market for urban art healthy despite economic downturn
  • Other works for sale include poster of Barack Obama by Shepard Fairey

London, England (CNN) -- Baloo, Mowgli and King Louie of the Apes from Disney film "The Jungle Book" all feature in a print by anonymous graffiti artist Banksy that sold for over $120,000 at auction Tuesday.

The work, "Save or Delete Jungle Book," went under the hammer alongside works by other urban artists as part of an Urban Art sale at Bonhams auction house in London.

The image was originally commissioned by Greenpeace for a poster campaign highlighting the problem of deforestation, with the characters transposed onto an image of a devastated forest. But the posters were never circulated due to copyright issues with Disney.

"Save or Delete Jungle Book," the start lot, achieved £78,000 ($122,000), the highest sale price at the auction. The other notable sales were both Banksy pieces, "Portrait of an Artist" (1998) which went for £60,000 ($93,500) and a canvas depicting a tanks that sold for £42,000 ($65,500).

Street art is an ephemeral art form, disappearing as quickly as it appears -- urban art is an attempt to redress this by leaving a more permanent legacy
--Auction house specialist Gareth Williams

These high prices indicate Banksy's continuing popularity. The anarchic street artist, who numbers Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp among his many fans, is famous for stenciled graffiti on buildings and walls across the globe, including the controversial West Bank barrier in Israel.

Bonhams contemporary art specialist Gareth Williams says the high prices also show the healthy state of the market for urban art, which he defines as a more permanent version of street art.

"I think when the recession kicked in, it was a difficult time for all contemporary art, but urban art, because it was such a new market, was badly affected initially," Williams said. The market has "found its feet, it's got steadier" since then, according to Williams.

Bonhams was the first auction house in the UK to mount a sale of urban art in 2008 and has since staged two more urban art auctions. This was the fourth sale for the house.

The sale included many vibrant works by a number of well-known street artists -- including American artist Shepard Fairey's iconic "Change" poster for the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. But Banksy was the big ticket.

"I think he appeals to a huge cross-section of people," Williams said. "You've got contemporary art collectors who love his work, and he also appeals to people who perhaps haven't really purchased contemporary art before."

And Banksy's anonymity, Williams said, helps to maintain a healthy interest in the artist and his cheeky and often anarchic imagery.

Other works in the sale included a spray-paint-on-board work by U.S. graffiti artist Futura 2000, part of a set for a 1983 concert by punk rockers The Clash; and a three-meter long suspended shark made out of reclaimed metal by artist Tony D'Amico.

Williams said that Banksy, alongside other street artists, regularly makes commercial work in addition to his street-based projects. But Banksy's more commercial work has not been immune to criticism.

Banksy's appeal will always be that he appears to be sticking his tongue out to the establishment
--Francesca Gavin, art critic
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Art critic Matthew Collings wrote in London newspaper The Times in 2008 after a previous Bonhams' urban art sale: "What can you get at the auction? You can be the owner of Banksy's Laugh Now, in stencil paint on canvas, for only £40,000. It shows a chimp with a sign round its neck that reads: 'You can laugh but one day we'll be in charge.'

What would you really be buying? A status symbol -- the work has no value as art. But owning it would make you modern and clever. Or stupid. It's a fine line."

Williams says that although it is created for a commercial environment, urban art is still connected to its roots in the street, both through the use of the techniques employed (such as stencil spray painting and wheat pasting) as well as through its politicized sensibility.

He added that street art is an ephemeral art form that disappears as quickly as it appears, and that "urban art is an attempt to redress this by leaving a more permanent legacy."

Art critic Francesca Gavin, who writes on graffiti and street art, said that making commercial art is simply a way for street artists to survive financially.

And while he may have proven himself to be a sound investment at auction, in the end, she said, "Banksy's appeal will always be that he appears to be sticking his tongue out to the establishment.

"Something that, I think, might seem very desirable even to the most straight-laced individual."

 
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