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Mediterranean Sea View, 2017


Mediterranean Sea View, 2017
Reworked oil paintings in artist’s frames, in three parts
Painting 1: 83×68 cm (32 3/4 x 26 3/4 inches)
Painting 2: 115 x 84.5 cm (45 1/4 x 33 1/4 inches)
Painting 3: 69.8 x 59.5 cm (27 1/2 x 59 1/2 inches)
Signed on the reverse
Sotheby’s London: 28 July 2020
GBP 2,235,000 / USD 2,893,578

Mediterranean Sea View was installed in the lobby of the Walled Off Hotel in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. Touted by the artist as having “the worst view in the world”, the hotel overlooks the highly controversial Israeli West Bank Barrier which separates Israel from the Palestinian territories and carves Bethlehem into a double U-shape. The wall’s towering concrete slabs – which stand only 5 meters from the hotel’s entrance – have played host to many works by the artist who has visited with frequency since the mid-2000s. The hotel, which opened in 2017 as Bethlehem’s own answer to the ‘Waldorf’, offers guests a range of rooms from utilitarian bunk-bed dormitories to presidential suites, in which every space, corner and crevice is crammed with the sardonic word-play and dark visual gags of Banksy’s artwork.
Mediterranean Sea View, Walled Off Hotel, Bethlehem
Mediterranean Sea View was created for display over the rubble-filled fireplace in the colonial-styled hotel lobby. Adorning the walls amongst button-back armchairs, velvet curtains and dark-wood paneling, this work reads as the perfect adornment for a nineteenth-century bourgeois interior; yet, like the hotel itself, all is not what it seems: close inspection reveals a number of politically barbed and disturbing aberrations.
Comprising three found oil paintings, each traditionally framed and depicting tumultuous seascapes reminiscent of Romantic era paintings and present-day imitations, this work juxtaposes an historic fine art genre with grim contemporaneity. Banksy reworked the original compositions by adding a slew of hand-painted life jackets and buoys; a visual amendment that evokes mass death at sea.
Indeed, as inferred by the work’s title, Mediterranean Sea View alludes to the lives lost at sea during the European migrant ‘crisis’ of the 2010s. Seeking international protection from countries riven by armed-conflict or social unrest, many of the refugees who arrived in Italy and Greece crossed the Mediterranean Sea by boat; a risky and dangerous crossing that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands during this period.
The crisis was officially declared over in March 2019; however, the high death toll and the media’s simultaneous fear-mongering over migration and frank coverage of shipwrecked crossings, is indelibly etched upon our collective consciousness. Of the latter, most powerful perhaps are the sobering images of hundreds of abandoned life jackets left piled-up on the beaches of Greece and Italy. Though posing as eighteenth or nineteenth-century paintings of the ‘Natural Sublime’, the present work undermines and subverts the viewer’s expectations to broach a difficult contemporary issue.