Morons was first released in 2006 during Banksy’s momentous exhibition in Los Angeles, entitled Barely Legal. The three-day show was attended by art critics, musicians and celebrities alike, including Angelina Jolie and Jude Law. Even at this early point in his career, Banksy had a blossoming reputation for controversial and thought-provoking art. The exhibition prompted a rise in street art exhibitions and firmly established Banksy as an artist to watch. 100 unsigned screenprints of Morons were released at the event; all in black and white, with a gold frame around the artwork in the design.
At the Barely Legal show, the original screenprints by Modern Multiples were sold for just US$500 each, which would now be considered a steal for a Banksy print. Today, the Morons series sell for much higher – the current top price is £100,100 for a signed edition of Morons.
Visitors to Banksy’s Barely Legal exhibition had the chance to buy a special portfolio called the Barely Legal Print Set, which contained Grannies, Applause, Sale Ends, Festival, Trolleys, and Morons. These are now among Banksy’s rarest and sought-after prints, and even more valuable when sold as a complete 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.
The inspiration for Morons came from the auction of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at Christie’s in London in 1987. The painting achieved £22.5 million (worth £54.5 million in 2021), becoming the most expensive work of art sold at auction at the time. Despite mocking this historical moment in Morons, Banksy came close to reaching the same price with the sale of his painting Game Changer at Christie’s in London in March 2021. The work raised almost £17 million for the NHS.
The bold message written inside the frame reads ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU MORONS ACTUALLY BUY THIS SHIT’ – a sentiment that is provocatively aimed at the collectors both within the print and in any future auction house selling Morons itself. Pictures on Walls summed up Banksy’s thoughts when they wrote on their website: “Banksy makes a crap picture about how people pay a lot of money for crap pictures, which someone then ends up paying a lot of money for. A portion of irony eating itself, anyone?”
In 2007, Banksy responded to his canvas setting a new record price at auction by posting an image of Morons on his website. Despite his continued success, Banksy never misses an opportunity for irony, and openly shares his amusement and contempt for the sky-high prices of the art world with his fans.
Banksy has described the elitist art world as “the biggest joke going” and “a rest home for the overprivileged, the pretentious, and the weak”. One of the most infamous examples of this disruption of the establishment was when a painting of his Girl With Balloon self-shredded just seconds after selling at auction, becoming a new work of art: Love Is In The Bin. Ironically, it is exactly this mocking tone that attracts many of Banksy’s collectors, proved by Love Is In The Bin's record breaking sale, achieving £18.6 million at auction in 2021.
Morons was released in three different colourways: there is the original monochrome, with a gold frame, version by Modern Multiples from 2006 (500 unsigned and 150 signed editions); in 2007, Pictures on Walls released a pure monochrome version (500 unsigned and 150 signed editions) and a sepia version (300 signed editions).
In early 2021, a masked man reputedly part of blockchain investor group Injective Protocol burnt an edition of Morons and then sold the piece as a Non-Fungible Token (NFT). The physical print was worth US$95,000, the NFT sold for US$380,000. “We specifically chose a Banksy piece since he has previously shredded one of his own artworks at an auction,” explained Injective Protocol.
While the act has been described as a “money-making stunt”, it demonstrates the sensationalism surrounding Banksy’s work and how it never fails to make headlines.
The central figure in Banksy’s Morons is believed to be Charles Hindlip, the Christie’s auctioneer of the record-breaking 1987 sale of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Hindlip owned a signed, 2007 monochrome edition of Morons. In January 2021, a member of his family sold the print at auction. It was estimated between £10,000-15,000, but achieved £71,500 with fees.