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 screenprints.
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 screenprint 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.
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.
4. But “Laugh Now” is not the only message on the monkeys’ signs
In the early 2000s, Banksy also created an alternative version of Laugh Now – featuring the same chimpanzee stencil, but with a “keep it real” sign strapped to the primate’s shoulders. This design has never been released as an editioned print and only existed as original paintings.
5. Monkeys are one of Banksy’s favourite characters
A recurring theme in his art, Banksy uses monkeys to convey darkly humorous, political messages on human folly or harm. His painting Monkey Poison, one of his top works at auction, depicts a monkey guzzling a carton of gasoline and is considered a commentary on humans’ toxic, excessive consumption of petrol, or how our use of fossil fuels is damaging the natural world.
Meanwhile, his editioned print Monkey Queen superimposes the face of a chimpanzee onto Queen Elizabeth II’s iconic portrait. The connection is instantly visible through the crown, coiffed hair and jewellery.
6. Laugh Now may foreshadow another Banksy artwork…
In 2009, seven years after he created Laugh Now, Banksy unveiled his monumental painting Devolved Parliament at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. The piece depicts the House of Commons being run by chimpanzees instead of human politicians – not only a biting commentary on the state of contemporary politics but also fulfils the Laugh Now prophecy that “one day we’ll be in charge”. Devolved Parliament sold for £9.9 million at Sotheby’s London in October 2019, becoming the most expensive Banksy painting at auction at the time.
7. Laugh Now is among Banksy’s most iconic works
The artwork is so representative of Banksy’s art that it is the title of Moco Amsterdam’s ongoing exhibition, Banksy: Laugh Now, which has been open since 2017. Laugh Now is one of the centrepieces of the show, which also features other famous works including Girl with Balloon, Love is in the Air (Flower Thrower) and Barcode.
8. Phillips launched cryptocurrency payments with their sale of Laugh Now in 2021
The global auction house accepted bitcoin or ether for the first time in their sale of Banksy’s Laugh Now Panel A, a rare framed mural, at their Hong Kong evening sale on 8 June 2021. It was the first time an auction house in Asia accepted bitcoin or ether as payment for a physical work of art. Laugh Now Panel A sold for HK$24,450,000 (£2.2million), but Phillips has not yet revealed if the buyer has paid in Hong Kong dollars or cryptocurrency.
A month earlier, Sotheby’s New York accepted cryptocurrency for the first time in their sale of a Love is in the Air (Flower Thrower) painting, which sold for $12.9 million.
9. What is the most expensive Laugh Now print at auction?
While an original Laugh Now can sell for millions, a print is more affordable – the highest price paid for a signed edition of Laugh Now is £200,250 with fees, from a London auction in February 2021.
10. What happened to the original Laugh Now?
In February 2008, the Ocean Rooms nightclub removed their Laugh Now mural from the wall and sold it at Bonhams auction house in London for £228,000 with fees. It was the star lot of the sale, and over twice as expensive as the next highest artwork (a version of Banksy’s Sid Vicious). Five years later, the same mural sold at Phillips New York for $485,000 (£250,000) and was offered again at a Phillips selling exhibition in 2021, according to the Antiques Trade Gazette.