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Critical Review

Now synonymous with the name Banksy, the dejected, stencilled monkey of Laugh Now (2003) has become a key motif in the artist’s oeuvre. First commissioned by the Ocean Rooms nightclub on Morley Street in Brighton, it originally appeared as a six-metre long, spray painted mural, with the figure of the monkey repeated ten times in a row to form a backdrop to the Brighton bar.

In 2003 the piece was also released as 150 signed and 600 unsigned edition prints, along with 69 artist's proofs. In 2008, Ocean Rooms sold the painting at Bonham’s for what was then a record auction price of nearly half a million dollars. Today, Laugh Now is one of the most popular Banksy prints, and internationally recognised works.

Rendered in Banksy’s signature monochrome style, the forlorn monkey of Laugh Now wears only a sandwich board, bearing the words “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”. The heavy board, along with the monkey’s slumped shoulders and sunken eyes suggest that he is oppressed or enslaved.

Along with the rat, the monkey is one of Banksy’s most frequently used animal characters. Satirising the nature of humankind, Banksy uses these animals as didactic figures in his critical social commentary. The catchphrase on the board is also typical of those often used by the artist to convey powerful or poignant messages to his audience. To learn more, see our guides to the Monkey and Rat in Banksy's work.

Laugh Now could also be seen as a criticism of the way that humans have been treating animals, in particular our primate cousins, throughout the course of history to this day, whether poaching or capturing them for entertainment or medical testing. The provocative text on the board is both mocking and threatening, clearly suggesting that the character is preparing for an uprising, as if Banksy is warning his viewers of an imminent revolution.

Why is Laugh Now important?

Since it was first seen in 2002, several versions of the stencilled monkey motif have appeared in Banksy’s oeuvre. Notably, it was displayed on the occasion of the artist’s first solo show Existentialism which took place in Los Angeles later that same year, alongside other provocative aphorisms including “Keep it real” or “Lying to a cop is never wrong”.

Following its record-breaking sale in 2008, a milestone auction for Urban Art, the artwork was subsequently exhibited in Amsterdam in 2017 at the Moco Museum, located in a breathtaking traditional mansion called Villa Alsberg, next to the famous Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. Laugh Now was the centrepiece of the eponymous exhibition, although more than fifty indoor and outdoor works by Banksy were displayed, including the iconic Girl With Balloon and other recognised works such as Barcode, Pulp Fiction, and Kate Moss.

How do I buy Laugh Now?

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If you're looking to sell art by Banksy, click the link and we can help. We employ a number of techniques and practices in order to give a realistic and achievable valuation on any art listed on myartbroker.com. We analyse the demand for the work in question, take into consideration previous sales and auction valuations, we assess the current gallery valuation and monitor the current deals taking place via MyArtBroker every day. We regularly advise sellers on a price bracket for their artwork completely free of charge.

Why does Banksy use the Monkey motif?

The monkey is one of Banksy’s most frequently used motifs and is often used in the place of a human in his works. We see the artist replace his own head with that of a monkey in Self Portrait, (2000) and the iconic chimpanzee appears across his oeuvre in works such as Laugh Now (2003) or Monkey Detonator (2002). Ultimately, the monkey functions as a symbol or a stand in for humanity. The motif is a vessel in which the artist is able to realise social commentary and criticism, as well as comment on our preconceptions of beings as ‘lesser’ than ourselves or to draw parallels with our more primal instincts that we see causing chaos in the world.

10 Facts About Banksy’s Laugh Now

Laugh Now by Banksy - MyArtBroker

Laugh Now © Banksy 2003

1. When was Banksy’s Laugh Now created?

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 Existentialism in Los Angeles, his first solo show, and as well as on murals in the streets, on paintings and as limited-edition screen prints.

Laugh Now by Banksy

Laugh Now © Banksy 2002

2. The Laugh Now print was released in 2003

There are 150 signed and 600 unsigned prints of Laugh Now, 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.

Monkey Poison by Banksy

Monkey Poison © Banksy 2004

3. What is the meaning behind Laugh Now?

“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.

Keep It Real by Banksy

image © Sotheby's / Keep It Real © Banksy 2003