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Banksy’s 2006 Morons screen print depicts an auctioneer conducting a packed sale and is a scathing comment on the practices of the art market. It was first displayed at the artist’s exhibition, Barely Legal, which took place in a warehouse in Los Angeles that same year.
Morons is one of six Banksy prints belonging to a rare and valuable collection referred to as the Barely Legal print set, which also includes the works Grannies, Applause, Trolleys, Sale Ends and Festival. Morons is one of the most detailed and intricate works from the series.
The image is based on the historic moment that Van Gogh's Sunflowers achieved a hammer price of £22,500,000 at Christie’s in 1987, setting the record price for any work of art at auction at the time. This moment marked the beginning of colossal changes in the art market, with the emergence of the first ‘mega lot’ auctions.
Here, the large canvas being auctioned bears the words, in block capitals, ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU MORONS ACTUALLY BUY THIS SHIT’. Banksy mocks the crowd, representing art collectors in general, that are ready to bid huge sums of money in order to acquire Banksy's work, or works by other famous artists. Ironically, the Morons screen print was included in Sotheby’s 2014 selling exhibition curated by Steve Lazarides entitled Banksy: The Unauthorized Retrospective.
Morons was originally released at the exhibition as an edition of 100 unsigned prints, printed by Modern Multiples, that sold for $500 a piece. In 2007, Banksy’s UK-based printer Pictures of Walls re-edited additional Morons prints in three different colours, with a further 500 unsigned and 150 signed prints in pure monochrome, as well as 300 signed prints on a sepia background. The original LA edition differs from those released by Pictures of Walls, with the inclusion of a gold frame around one of the paintings portrayed within the print.
Morons (LA edition, white) © Banksy 2007
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.
Morons (white) © Banksy 2007
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.
Barely Legal LA Set © Banksy 2006
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.
"Vincent van Gogh - Sunflowers" © irinaraquel / Sunflowers © Vincent van Gogh 1888