A dramatic criticism of our consumer culture, Banksy‘s prints Sale Ends and Sale Ends V2 epitomise the artist's satirical use of historical references and imagery.
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Banksy’s Sale Ends deftly blends together high art with high street shopping, comparing society’s devout consumerism to religious passion. The figures mourn the end of the discount sales and events such as Black Friday in the same way that religious masterpieces once depicted Jesus’s followers lamenting his crucifixion.
Banksy’s print depicts four women gathered around a central red sign announcing “Sale Ends Today”. Although they have been drawn in Banksy’s classic black and white stencil style, the details in their long and flowing robes, their gestures and their expressive faces were inspired by Renaissance and Old Masters-style religious paintings. (See the example by Giotto di Bondone above, for example.)
Visitors to Banksy’s Barely Legal exhibition in Los Angeles in 2016 had the chance to buy a special portfolio called Barely Legal (LA Set), which contained Sale Ends, Grannies, Applause, Festival, Trolleys and Morons. These are now among Banksy’s rarest and most sought-after prints - even more valuable when sold as a complete set.
Each print from the set measures 50 x 70cm, and is a landscape-configured screenprint in black and white, most with an additional pop of colour. The visual simplicity of each print, owing to Banksy's stencil style and limited colour palette, displays the artist's clear talent for creating long-lasting, recognisable, and effectively simple images.
Banksy worked with Los Angeles-based printers Modern Multiples to create 500 unsigned Sale Ends prints for his Barely Legal exhibition, but only 100 prints were actually offered for sale at the exhibition. The remaining 400 unsigned prints were never publicly released, increasing the rarity of the Barely Legal print set.
After Barely Legal closed, Modern Multiples were ordered to destroy the plates for the six prints so they could never be reproduced without the involvement of Banksy’s UK-based printer at the time, Pictures On Walls. Pictures On Walls would go on to release an edition of 150 signed Sale Ends prints in 2005.
Since gaining notoriety in the early 2000s, Banksy has never been afraid to cut close to the bone. With his Barely Legal exhibition, he firmly established himself as an artist creating pieces against consumerism and capitalism, but none of the other five prints in the Barely Legal (LA Set) offers the same direct and witty remark on consumer culture as Sale Ends. To a lesser extent, his print Festival (Destroy Capitalism) mocks the masses for buying, literally, into anti-establishment positions and his print Morons targets buyers of his art at blue-chip auction houses.
The highest price paid today for a variant of Sale Ends, was actually for a signed print of Sale Ends V2, the version released to mark Pictures On Walls' closing down. In April 2021, the print sold for £52,500 (with fees) at auction – achieving above its high estimate. It is currently the top price paid for a print in either Banksy’s Sales Ends or Sales Ends V2 series.
The rare and enormous painting is an impressive 4 metres wide. When it came up for auction at Christie’s Hong Kong in May 2021, it sold for over HK$47 million (£4.3 million) with fees – more than double its HK$21 million low estimate.
Pop artist Andy Warhol grew up in a religious family and went on to explore American society’s worship of celebrities and material objects in his art. Banksy has used Warhol as an inspiration for his prints Soup Can and Kate Moss, but Sale Ends may also be subtly influenced by Warhol’s paintings like Sixty Last Suppers (based on Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper), combining religious masterpieces and contemporary issues or techniques. While Warhol referenced religion to highlight his Catholic faith, Banksy uses it to interrogate ideas of idolisation.
In 2017, Banksy’s printers Pictures On Walls announced that they had “been taken over by venture anti-capitalists and [would] cease trading from 31st December.” To mark their closure, Banksy released an ironic and timely new print called Sale Ends V2, which showed two robed women and three men lamenting over a “Sale Ends Today” sign. This new edition was released using a lottery system to give everyone a fair chance of buying a Banksy print and avoid the works ending up in the hands of resellers.
Banksy uses words to both explain and create comical contradictions against his images. In Sale Ends, the bright red “Sale Ends Today” sign is used to highlight the difference between high street sales and religious devotion. In Grannies, two sweet, elderly women knit jumpers with the surprising messages “Punk’s not dead” and “Thug for life". And in Morons, the professional auctioneer in a dinner jacket is selling a painting that says, “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit”.
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