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Can chimps become one of the art market’s new champs?

In what appears to be an emerging theme in the art world, these past few weeks painting and chimpanzees have shown they have more in common than one might normally assume.

In London, art industry professionals have spent their time – and no doubt money – on art fairs and events all-around. London’s 17th Frieze Week took over the city’s Regent’s Park, while 1-54 – the contemporary African art fair – and The Other Art Fair ran alongside, providing enough fodder for all.  

One of the highlights was the Frieze Week ‘Contemporary Art Evening Auction’ held by Sotheby’s, which saw Banksy’s Devolved Parliament, his largest-ever canvas, fetch $10 million. Not only did the painting set a new personal best for the masquerading graffiti artist, but also commented on this month’s looming Brexit action – though somewhat more presciently than Banksy might have intended.

Devolved Parliament. Credits: Sotheby’s

The painting represents the UK’s House of Commons – where MPs adjourn to argue matters of national importance – as a room full of chimpanzees. It was one of Banksy’s signature motifs which also featured in the Turbo Zone Truck.

Turbo Zone Truck. Credits: Bonhams

Meanwhile, 55 paintings by a chimpanzee named Congo, whose works were once acquired by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and the Duke of Edinburgh, will go on sale at London’s Mayor Gallery this December.

The personal collection, which comes from renowned painter Desmond Morris, is expected to fetch £200,000 ($247,000). Congo is understood to have completed 400 abstract expressionist paintings over a three-year period and rose to fame in the 1950s, when he featured on a television programme. And he’s still making news more than 50 years after his death.  

Banksy’s chimps too, were painted back in 2009 with no intended or, at least, stated connection to politics. Both, although making headlines, have come under scrutiny in the larger debate surrounding: ‘What is art’? In the same vein, collectors and gallerists are expressing disbelief at the $25 million hammer price achieved by Yoshitomo Nara’s cartoon-like painting, Knife Behind Back, in Hong Kong last week.

Whether these are financial art trends to watch out for or are simply the political times-a-changing, it seems opposable thumbs have come to grips with what we hang on our walls.

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Yuvan Kumar

Yuvan Kumar

Yuvan is editor of PAI. He is an arts journalist editing a financial magazine about the art world. He has written across Corporate Jet Investor, Revolution.Aero and Helicopter/VTOL Investor, since joining the company in November 2018.