Banksy's Submerged Phone Booth

Year: 2006
Medium: Mixed Media (Sculpture)
Dimensions: 121.9 x 182.9 x 152.4cm
Last Hammer: £600,000 (Phillips London, 2014)
Signed/Unsigned: Unsigned
This mixed media installation captures the iconic British phone booth in a state of emergence or perhaps submergence, depending on one's perspective.Submerged Phone Booth © Banksy 2006
Joe Syer

Joe Syer, Co-Founder & Specialist[email protected]

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Most people do not think of sculptures when they consider Banksy’s art. Submerged Phone Booth, however, illustrates how the artist is able to craft a profound narrative of the evolving British cultural landscape in any medium. Created in 2006, this mixed media installation captures the iconic British phone booth in a state of emergence or perhaps submergence, depending on one's perspective. It is a visual metaphor for communication interrupted, histories buried, and the relentless march of progress. Submerged Phone Booth speaks volumes of political and social commentary, cloaked in simple imagery filled with the duality of dark humour and whimsy.

Submerged Phone Booth: Meaning and Analysis

Banksy continuously leverages his art to underscore themes often marginalised in public discourse. His installations act as a seamless extension of his graffiti, eschewing the moniker of vandalism for a mantle of more socially-acceptable urban expression but similarly embracing anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-establishment sentiments. A beacon of communication, the iconic British phone booth once punctuated London's streets, embodying instant connectivity in an era long before the digital age. As cellphones have emerged, these crimson landmarks have dwindled, leaving a cultural void in their wake. Instead, now they are often derelict symbols of the downsides of technological progress. Through Submerged Phone Booth, Banksy laments the fading of these cultural staples, which have been referenced widely in pop culture from Superman to The Beatles, underscoring the booth's entrenched place in art and society.

The year 2006 marked a cultural shift, exemplified by Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" being the collective 'you', symbolising the democratisation of information and the rise of the anonymous voice. Banksy's work from the same year presents a counterpoint, protesting against the loss of individuality in a world veering towards anonymity – even as he himself continues to obscure his identity. It is an audacious claim on public national identity in an age of increasingly digital avatars and transient online footprints. In this work, the artist repurposes the object's utilitarian role, transforming it into a vessel for layered meaning and robust commentary. The partial visibility of the booth surging from a fractured pavement evokes a dynamic of upheaval; the contrast of the booth's vibrant hue against the drab concrete further intensifies its message, while the scale magnifies its impact, commanding attention. Dramatic and provocative, Submerged Phone Booth stands as a testament to Banksy's ability to stir thought, trigger dialogue, and captivate the imagination. It is an artwork that holds a mirror to the complexities of modern life through the use of symbols, urging a rediscovery of voices once clear and present but now fading into the static of the new age. Submerged Phone Booth does not just represent the obsolescence of past modes of communication; it reclaims and elevates them, asserting a new relevance.

Submerged Phone Booth is a striking example of Banksy's ability to engage with British cultural symbols in a profound and thought-provoking manner.”

Joe Syer
Joe Syer,Co-Founder & Specialist,MYArtbroker

Submerged Phone Booth within Banksy’s Oeuvre

First displayed at Banksy's seminal Barely Legal show in Los Angeles, the piece contributed to what became known as 'the Banksy effect,' as the artist began to emerge onto the mainstream contemporary art scene. Barely Legal was held over a weekend in September 2006 in a nondescript Los Angeles warehouse, and marked a significant moment in the development of contemporary street art. Described as a 'vandalised warehouse extravaganza,' it was shrouded in the artist's characteristic secrecy and a satirical nudge at the edges of legality. The show included live animals, his notorious paintings, and provocative installations that continued to challenge societal norms. It was here that the Submerged Phone Booth was displayed, alongside other works that sparked dialogue on the legality, ethics, and placement of street art within larger art historical discourse. Barely Legal drew vast crowds, further solidifying Banksy's influence in popular culture and significantly boosted public interest in street art.

Since then, in his characteristic way Banksy has redefined iconic British motifs, positioning himself as a pivotal figure in the art world. The artist's work consistently embodies a revolutionary spirit, challenging perceptions and inviting controversy. Banksy's installations often act as lighting rods of cynicism and critique, with their inherent metaphorical richness prompting viewers to question the constructs of their reality. Submerged Phone Booth serves as a vital piece within Banksy’s portfolio, eloquently articulating the tension between past and present, silence and noise, anonymity and identity – all themes that would come to define his work. It is a multifaceted commentary on the changing tides of communication and societal engagement and through this artwork, Banksy critiques the ephemeral nature of modern communication and immortalises an icon of British heritage, ensuring that its legacy resurfaces in the collective memory of a rapidly advancing world.

Submerged Phone Booth: Exhibition History

Barely Legal: A Three Day Vandalised Warehouse Extravaganza, Los Angeles - 15 - 17 September 2006

With You I Want to Live: The Gordon Lockley and Dr. George T. Shea Collection, Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida - 23 March 2009 - 22 March 2010

Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Florida - 23 March 2010 - 3 August 2012

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