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Girl with Balloon and Morons Sepia, 2007


Girl with Balloon and Morons Sepia, 2007|
Girl with Balloon: spray-paint on paper
Morons Sepia: screen-print on paper, double-sided
56.5 x 76 cm (22 1/4 x 29 7/8 inches)
Edition of 8
Signed, numbered and dated “Banksy 07 2/8”, lower right
Phillips London: 22 October 2020
GBP 1,232,500

A biting example of Banksy’s satirical oeuvre, Girl with Balloon & Morons Sepia is a double-sided composition boasting two of the artist’s most famous images: Girl with Balloon and Morons.
On the recto, Girl with Balloon depicts a young girl extending her hand toward a red heart-shaped balloon, carried away by the wind. To the reverse, a crowd of art collectors is shown gathered around an auctioneer who, mid-performance, gestures toward a large, gilt-framed canvas. When held up to light, Girl with Balloon and Morons Sepia magically fuse into a single composition, transporting the young girl into the sale room, and creating a mirror effect between her extended arm and that of the auctioneer.
Forming part of an edition of 8 works, each version is nonetheless rendered unique by the artist’s spray painting of the young girl’s figure to the front of the work – a feat that distinguishes it from Banksy’s other editions of Girl with Balloon and Morons.
First developed in 2002 and 2006 respectively, Girl with Balloon and Morons have, as independent images, become laden with meaning. The former, initially devised as a stencil mural, was exhibited in such public and political spaces as Waterloo Bridge and the West Bank barrier. Its portrayal of a young girl reaching for – or releasing – a drifting balloon spurred a number of interpretations relating to one’s inevitable loss of childhood and innocence. Recognized as one of the artist’s foremost symbols for more than a decade, and voted the nation’s favorite artwork in 2017, the image once again came to the forefront of the public’s attention in 2018, when a 2006 framed copy of the artwork came to auction and sold for a record price. Adding further momentum to the event, the work began self-destructing just a few moments after the closing bid, by means of a concealed mechanical paper shredder Banksy had built into the frame bottom. Marking auction history with an unprecedented performative quality, Girl with Balloon became an icon for the unpredictable developments of contemporary markets, whilst simultaneously entering the realm of popular culture.
Similarly quoting the environment and corporate fabric of the auction world, Morons was published as a set of six prints on the occasion of Banksy’s important and characteristically controversial warehouse exhibition Barely Legal, which took place in Los Angeles in 2006. In the now iconic image, an auctioneer commands a sale room packed with bidders, immortalizing the historical 1987 sale that saw Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers yield a price of £22,500,000, a record for any work at auction at the time. Among the works on display, a large canvas to the right of the composition stands out, reading the words “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU MORONS ACTUALLY BUY THIS SHIT”. Devising a facetious critique of the art world – one that Banksy has become known and revered for – the artist paradoxically turns his own creative gesture into a reproducible image, one that, in Girl with Balloon & Morons Sepia, constitutes half of the work’s iconographic value.