Up there with the most iconic of Banksy prints, Laugh Now has provided a staple motif for the artist throughout his career - the monkey. As the artist himself jokes: "You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerilla artist."
Here are 10 quick facts about Laugh Now, including why Banksy just can't help returning to his monkey model:
One of Banksy’s early works, the original Laugh Now was commissioned by the Ocean Rooms nightclub in Brighton in 2002. The six-metre long stencilled mural, featuring ten monkeys in a line, was designed to form the backdrop of the bar.
Later, versions of Laugh Now appeared in Banksy’s exhibition Existencilism in Los Angeles, his first solo show, and as well as on murals in the streets, on paintings and as limited-edition screen prints.
Banksy's Laugh Now was released as a print in 2003 in an edition of 150 signed, and 600 unsigned prints, along with 69 artist’s proofs. The screen print depicts a monochrome chimpanzee against a brown background. While the majority of the image is in clean, stencilled lines, the primate’s feet turn into dripping paint running down the image, similar to wet ink on a spray-painted mural.
“Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge” states the heavy sign strapped to the chimpanzee, suggesting the monkey is feeling oppressed but not defeated. Banksy’s message is a clear prediction that the unwanted and downtrodden will soon rise up against their tormentors – the artwork has also been read as a criticism of the way that humans have treated primates, including abusing them for entertainment or animal testing, which is a theme the artist touches upon in multiple works like Monkey Poison or Barcode.
Read more about Banksy's complicated relationship with the animal rights movement here.
In the early 2000s, Banksy also created an alternative version of Laugh Now – featuring the same chimpanzee stencil, but with a “keep it real” sign strapped to the primate’s shoulders. This design has never been released as an editioned print and only existed as original paintings.
A recurring theme in his art, Banksy uses monkeys to convey darkly humorous, political messages on human folly or harm. His painting Monkey Poison, one of his top works at auction, depicts a monkey guzzling a carton of gasoline and is considered a commentary on humans’ toxic, excessive consumption of petrol, or how our use of fossil fuels is damaging the natural world.
Meanwhile, his editioned print Monkey Queen superimposes the face of a chimpanzee onto Queen Elizabeth II’s iconic portrait. The connection is instantly visible through the crown, coiffed hair and jewellery.
Discover more in our Guide to Banksy's Monkeys.
In 2009, seven years after he created Laugh Now, Banksy unveiled his monumental painting Devolved Parliament at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. The piece depicts the House of Commons being run by chimpanzees instead of human politicians – not only a biting commentary on the state of contemporary politics but also fulfils the Laugh Now prophecy that “one day we’ll be in charge”. Banksy's Devolved Parliament made headlines when it sold for £9.9 million at Sotheby’s London in October 2019, becoming the most expensive Banksy painting at auction at the time.
The artwork is so representative of Banksy’s art that it is the title of Moco Amsterdam’s ongoing exhibition, Banksy: Laugh Now, which has been open since 2017. Laugh Now is one of the centrepieces of the show, which also features other famous works including Girl With Balloon, Love Is In The Air (Flower Thrower) and Barcode.
Phillips launched cryptocurrency payments with their sale of Laugh Now in 2021. The global auction house accepted bitcoin or ether for the first time in their sale of Banksy’s Laugh Now Panel A, a rare framed mural, at their Hong Kong evening sale on 8 June 2021. It was the first time an auction house in Asia accepted bitcoin or ether as payment for a physical work of art. Laugh Now Panel A sold for HK$24,450,000 (£2.2million).
Banksy's work appears to hold an affinity with the introduction of alternative payments, probably due to the subversive, countercultural nature of his work. Just a month earlier, Sotheby’s New York accepted cryptocurrency for the first time in their sale of a Love Is In The Air (Flower Thrower) painting, which sold for US$12.9 million.
While an original Laugh Now can sell for millions, a print is more affordable – the highest price paid for a signed edition of Laugh Now is £200,250 with fees, from a London auction in February 2021.
Check out prints of Laugh Now.
In February 2008, the Ocean Rooms nightclub removed their Laugh Now mural from the wall and sold it at Bonhams auction house in London for £228,000 with fees. It was the star lot of the sale, and over twice as expensive as the next highest artwork (a version of Banksy’s Sid Vicious). Five years later, the same mural sold at Phillips New York for US$485,000 (£250,000) and was offered again at a Phillips selling exhibition in 2021, according to the Antiques Trade Gazette.