Laugh Now, 2000
Acrylic and spray paint on canvas
61.2 x 61 cm (24 1/8 x 24 inches)
This work is unique in its format
Christie’s London: 14 October 2022
Estimated GBP 400,000 – 600,000
London, Rivington Street, Banksy, 2000
Created in 2000 and held in the same collection ever since, Laugh Now is an irreverent, iconic image by Banksy, the art world’s most famous provocateur. Unique in format, this painting is one of the first depictions of a subject which would become central to the artist’s oeuvre: four forlorn monkeys each wearing a sandwich board that reads ‘Laugh now but one day we’ll be in charge’. The work was included in one of Banksy’s earliest exhibitions, held in 2000 under a railway bridge on Rivington Street in London’s Shoreditch neighborhoods. It was shown alongside a similar work which had been painted directly onto the side of a building. Modest in form yet nevertheless forthright, Laugh Now announces a new, outspoken voice.
In a contemporary twist on singerie, the visual arts genre in which fashionably dressed monkeys imitate human behavior, Banksy deploys primates as a means of lampooning humanity. Like much of the artist’s work, the motif’s meaning is multi-layered and regularly reinterpreted; Banksy famously replaced British politicians with chimpanzees in his 2009 painting Devolved Parliament, a painting whose title explicitly criticizes the regressive political landscape. Likewise, the protagonists of Laugh Now seem the inheritors of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution, and their foreboding text seems to announce a future uprising: humanity is arrogant, and there may come a time when the animal kingdom seizes power and revolts. These are not mere monkeys, but rather creatures that should be taken seriously—even if we continue to fail to do so.
You’re no safer in first class, 20 minutes, District Line, London 2002. Artwork: © Banksy / Courtesy of Pest Control Office, Banksy.
Laugh Now was painted at a critical moment for the world’s most elusive street artist. Although well-known in England, Banksy only began to gain widespread acclaim at the turn of the millennium. The artist came of age in Bristol, a hub for graffiti culture in England during the 1990s, where he first gained notice for his freehand graffiti. It was not until 2000 that he began to cultivate his now instantly identifiable and highly legible style: one evening, while fleeing approaching policemen, Banksy hid beneath a garbage lorry where, safely concealed, he was able to take in the stencilled lettering which adorned the cabin door. Banksy soon began cutting his own stencils which he uses to craft crisp, matte images that suit his acerbic, anti-establishment visual rhetoric and allow him to quickly leave his mark upon a site. Indeed, he ties his aesthetic to his working methods.
At once a satirist and a daring activist, Banksy’s outlook and geographic footprint have expanded well beyond England’s borders over the past two decades. No longer content simply to leave his mark on the side of a building, Banksy’s art chronicles the complexities and questions that face our era, addressing everything from climate change and police brutality to immigration. The artist’s anarchic approach is tempered by a sincere conviction that art should be for everyone, and he believes profoundly in the generative possibility that street art presents. While much of Banksy’s art responds to specific events, works such as Laugh Now encapsulate his more overarching ethos: that art should speak truth to power, challenge the status quo, and endeavour to better the world. ‘He is making art that penetrates the public consciousness’, writes Will Gompertz, arts editor for the BBC; ‘art that is in the world, not detached from it; art that raises questions that need an airing … Banksy makes art that, as Hamlet said, holds “… the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”’ (W. Gompertz, ‘Will Gompertz on Banksy’s shredded Love is in the Bin’, BBC News, 13 October 2018).