Banksy SWAT Van And Warhol Mao Lead Bonham’s Contemporary Sale

Bonhams as part of the Post-War and Contemporary Art season in London has achieved strong results with its sale at New Bond Street on 29 June. A spectacular Andy Warhol painting of Chairman Mao, said to be the finest version of the subject he ever executed, estimated at £580,000-780,000, sold for £1,070,500. The sale as a whole made £3,877,175.

“One of the finest – if not the finest – of Warhol’s small format paintings of Chairman Mao” sold for an astonishing £1,070,500 after fierce bidding in the saleroom, on the phone and on the internet.

Banksy’s unique SWAT van, unseen since his debut exhibition in America in 2006. It had been parked outside the auction house for the last week, achieving even greater cult status. Created ten years ago, the work depicts a group of armed officers about to be tricked by a boy on one side and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz on the other.Estimated to fetch between £200,000 and £300,000, it was sold for £218,500.

Other major highlights included a medicine cabinet by Damien Hirst (estimated £180,000-250,000; sold for £314,500), and Stamens Sorrow by Yayoi Kusama estimated £65,000-85,000 which sold for £120,100. Following a fierce bidding war in the telephones, the ethereal Untitled 1949 by Zao Wou-Ki sold for £542,500 against an estimate of £80,000-120,000.

Bonhams Senior Director of Contemporary Art, Ralph Taylor, said, “Bonhams is delighted to continue its vertiginous rise in Post-war and Contemporary with today’s sale. With results of 96% by value and 86% by lot we have cemented our place as the most effective sale in our field. This result is proof that curated sales with fresh works to market and quality presentation can deliver stunning results to a global audience even in challenging times.”

The stunning, densely-textured painting of Chairman Mao by Andy Warhol (est £580,000-780,000) came fresh to the market having originally been handled by the artist’s legendary dealer Leo Castelli in the 1970s. The distinctive coloration and clarity of composition makes this arguably the finest of the series ever to appear at auction. This particular piece has unusually thick impasto, with expressive brushwork in subtle blue hues and a halo of vivid scarlet interrupting the almost blinding vibrancy of the acid green background. Renowned as one of Warhol’s most significant, signature images, the Mao paintings feature in many of the world’s most prestigious public and most important private collections worldwide.

Banksy’s SWAT van (est £200,000-300,000) has remained shrouded in mystery since September 2006, and has since been verified by the Pest Control Office, Banksy’s authorisation service. It was shown for the first – and only time – in an industrial warehouse in downtown Los Angeles, when the anonymous figure from Bristol, England, made his American debut with a solo exhibition. The true centerpiece was the SWAT van, spray painted in Banksy’s irreverent, insouciant style, combining vicious black humor with his anti-establishment message. The painting depicts heavily armed Special Forces agents being hoodwinked by a small boy. Banksy, who has tussled with the police throughout his career, once said “My main problem with cops is that they do what they’re told,” he said. “They say ‘Sorry mate, I’m just doing my job’ all the f***king time.” Banksy’s characteristic stenciling technique, artfully employed on the SWAT van, was inspired by an incident: while the artist was hiding from the police under a rubbish lorry, he noticed the stenciled serial number. Stenciling has since allowed him to carry out complicated graffiti pieces extremely quickly, before he melts away into the night.

Estimated at £180,000 – 250,000, Untitled aaaaaa, which sold for £314,500, is one of a small core of works that mark the epicenter of the shock that triggered the YBA wave in the early 1990s. This signature medicine cabinet from the most innovative period of Hirst’s career appears on the market for the first time, almost a quarter of a century after it was first created. Hirst has always been totally preoccupied with the idea of medicine, drawing parallels between the pharmaceutical industry and the art world. He said ‘I cannot understand why some people believe completely in medicine but not in art, without questioning either. I was with my mum in the chemist’s; she was getting a prescription. And it was like, complete trust on the sculpture and organizing shapes.’ In the late nineties, Hirst opened a concept restaurant in Notting Hill called Pharmacy, frequented by celebrities such as Kate Moss. It was ill-fated and collapsed in 2001. But in early 2016 Hirst opened a second restaurant, Pharmacy2, at his Newport Street Gallery. Following this renaissance of the red pill, Untitled aaaaaa, now a classic, flourished at the Bonhams auction.

Other highlights:

Stamens Sorrow by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (£65,000-85,000) sold for £120,100 refreshingly chaotic blast of color and movement from 1986 which, despite hints of melancholy in its title, encapsulates boundless energy and intensity. Kusama has been making waves in London this year with a strange and spectacular exhibition of her work currently being held at the Victoria Miro gallery. A slice of quintessential Kusama, Stamens Sorrow displays many of the wild and wonderful motifs for which the celebrated artist is best-known.

Zao Wou-Ki’s 1949 work, Untitled (£80,000-120,000), sold for £542,500 to a bidder on the telephone. It offers an important glimpse of the artist’s emerging style in its earliest form, as the contrasting influences of Chinese tradition and European avant-garde collided with dramatic results. It is a particularly rare work and has been in the same family collection since 1976. Born in Beijing, China in 1921, into a wealthy family, Zao Wou-Ki studied at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Art in Hangzhou from 1935-1941, later becoming a teacher at the same institution. A growing awareness of avant-garde artistic developments in Europe led Zao to Paris in 1948. By chance, he moved into a hotel next door to Alberto Giacometti and found himself fraternizing with a vast array of artists. His own work developed in exciting directions, influenced by the challenging and provocative styles of his new circle.

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