Banksy's cheeky parody of Demi Moore's iconic Vanity Fair cover to make auction debut

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Banksy's cheeky parody of Demi Moore's iconic Vanity Fair cover to make auction debut
Banksy, Original Concept for Barely Legal Poster (After Demi Moore), 2006. Spray paint and emulsion on canvas, 213 by 123 cm. Estimate: £2-3 million. Courtesy Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Banksy’s brazen parody of Demi Moore’s iconic 1991 Vanity Fair cover is set to return to the spotlight this spring, when it makes its auction debut in Sotheby’s livestreamed marquee event on March 25 in London, in which the painting is estimated to sell for between £2-3 million. The sale comes just months after Sotheby’s set the second and third highest price for the artist at auction for Show me the Monet (£7.6 million / $9.9 million) and Forgive us our Trespassing (US$8.3 million).

The two-metre-tall canvas was first unveiled in 2006 as the poster image for Banksy’s debut and breakthrough U.S. exhibition, which arguably cemented his status far beyond that of Bristolian graffiti-tagger. Titled ‘Barely Legal’, the self-proclaimed “three-day vandalised warehouse extravaganza” took place in an impoverished area of Los Angeles – a city were glamour, wealth and celebrity is joined by an equal dose of crime and poverty. Its location in Skid Row was kept a secret until just hours before the opening, although advertisements featuring Original Concept for Barely Legal Poster (After Demi Moore) – juxtaposed against a blue-sky backdrop of the famous Hollywood sign nestled in the iconic surrounding hills – were pasted around the city in the lead up. The mischievous work set the exhibition’s anti-establishment tone, which aimed to challenge issues of representation and power structure in contemporary society. To promote the show, Banksy also left an inflatable replica of a Guantánamo Bay detainee in Disneyland.

During the three-day view, the exhibition caused a media sensation and famously drew 30,000 visitors – among them Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jude Law, Keanu Reeves, Orlando Bloom, Dennis Hopper, Cameron Diaz and Sacha Baron Cohen – with queues at one point reportedly stretching a mile long. $5 million worth of art was sold during the show’s opening two hours according to the LA Times.

At the very centre of the exhibition, Banksy staged an installation involving Tai, a 37-year-old Indian elephant, adorned with gold fleur-de-lis (hand painted with natural brushes and non-toxic child face-paint) to match the artificial bourgeois interior*. The installation, complete with a chintzy-sofa, Turkish rug, crystal chandelier, and Banksy’s gilt-framed ‘Vandalised Oils’ paintings, was replete with an official artist statement: “There’s an elephant in the room. There’s a problem that we never talk about. The fact is life isn’t getting any fairer. 1.7 billion people have no access to clean drinking water. 20 billion people live below the poverty line. Every day hundreds of people are made to feel physically sick by morons at art shows telling them how bad the world is but never actually doing something about it. Anybody want a free glass of wine?”

‘Barely Legal’ joins just a handful of exhibitions staged by Banksy, which have all defied the traditional artist/gallery model; from his first major show in an East London vandalised warehouse (‘Turf-War’, 2003), to a rat-infested disused shop (‘Crude Oils’, 2005), an overrun museum (Bristol Museum, 2009) and an apocalyptic theme park (‘Dismaland’, 2015).

The monkey has become Banksy’s most widely recurring and disseminated motifs, from their first appearance in Laugh Now (2002), to his dystopian reimagining of the House of Commons run amok with irate chimps in Devolved Parliament (2009), which made headlines after setting a record for the artist at auction (£9.9 / $12.2 million, Sotheby’s London). In 2006, Banksy’s auction record stood at $116,744.

Though Banksy has always fiercely maintained his anonymity, he has portrayed himself with his face either obscured or commonly disguised by the comical boggle-eyed monkey mask depicted in Original Concept for Barely Legal Poster (After Demi Moore). Self Portrait (2000) is the first known instance of Banksy’s self-presentation-as-monkey in his work. The monkey mask was present next to the artist during his interview for the 2010 documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” before appearing again in Banksy’s cover feature in Time Out London magazine in 2011.

Original Concept for Barely Legal Poster (After Demi Moore) will be offered at auction in London on 25 March as part of Modern Renaissance: A Cross-Category Sale, alongside Banksy’s Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (Gold), in addition to a rare Renaissance portrait by Piero del Pollaiuolo; two works by Edward Munch once owned by Hermann Göring (a self-portrait and summer landscape); David Hockney’s Tall Dutch Trees After Hobbema (Useful Knowledge) inspired by the 17th-Century Dutch painting in the National Gallery’s collection, and a portrait of Surrealist photographer Dora Maar by Pablo Picasso.

A sale of 48 Banksy Prints is also open for bidding online until March 18.

*Los Angeles’ Animal Services Department had given a permit for the elephant to appear at the exhibition in advance, however, officials later said that they regretted granting the permit, and subsequently ordered Tai's owners, ‘Have Trunk Will Travel’, to remove the floral spray-paint. Tai appeared on the final day of the exhibition unpainted.

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