Critical and unapologetic, this Banksy print is a prime example of the artist tearing down the very same art world that supports him.
Here are 10 quick facts about this highly sought-after Morons:
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, achieved in 2021. A double-faced work from a tiny edition of 8, featuring Morons as the verso print and Girl With Balloon on the opposite face, topped this number when it sold for an astonishing £594,527 in December 2022.
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 not from Vincent van Gogh’s celebrated Sunflowers painting itself, but from its record-breaking auction at Christie’s in London in 1987. Specifically, Banksy bases his image off a famous photograph (above) of the auction room as the historic sale was made. 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).
It was Burnt Finance, an incubator off-shoot of Injective Protocol who were responsible; on their website, they describe themselves as a 'Decentralized Marketplace for your Collections.' The event, which took place in a park in New York and was livestreamed via Youtube, evidently took inspiration from Banksy's own off-piste, urban, and technologically engaged defiance of the often conservative modes of the mainstream art world. 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. Gabrielle Du Plooy, of Zebra One Gallery, commented that it is likely Injective Protocol made a play on the phrase 'money to burn', suggesting the choice of Morons was crucial given that the act of burning it extended and heightened Banksy's original meta-commentary on the wealth and idiocy of rich art collectors.
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.
Burnt Finance on Youtube © 2021
Banksy has been the target of similar strategies by companies experimenting with the artistic potential of blockchain, doubtless because of his renown as an artist with a subversive attitude towards the industry that supports him. In 2021, Particle bought a Love Is In The Air canvas and turned it into not one, but 10,000 NFTs. They did not, however, destroy the original Banksy in the process— possibly not a surprising fact, given that they paid a cool £12.9m for it— and each 'portion' correlated to a grid coordinate of the painting. Those paying for the Love Is In The Air, arguably made a more tangible purchase than the Morons NFT buyer, but the fact remains that Banksy creates and encourages art that pushes the boundaries of what is bought and sold in the commercial art world to its very limits.
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.