A triptych of a Mediterranean shipwreck donated by British street artist Banksy on Tuesday raised nearly US$3 million at a Sotheby’s auction held to raise funds for a Palestinian hospital in the West Bank.
The trio of highly stylized paintings by the mysterious artist shows orange life vests and an oar washed up on a rocky shore.
They first appeared in the Walled Off Hotel that Banksy helped set up in the Israeli-occupied city of Bethlehem in 2017.
The Mediterranean Sea View 2017 was seen as Bansky’s stern judgement on Europe’s hesitant response to the migrant crisis that peaked about five years ago.
Tens of thousands are thought to have died as European countries on the Mediterranean and Aegean seas turn away people fleeing violent conflicts across North Africa and the Middle East.
“This work juxtaposes an historic fine art genre with grim contemporaneity,” Sotheby’s said in its sales listing for the work. “Though posing as eighteenth or nineteenth-century paintings of the ‘Natural Sublime,’ the present work undermines and subverts the viewer’s expectations to broach a difficult contemporary issue.”
It officially raised ￡2,235,000 (US$2.9 million) — well shy of the record ￡9.9 million set for a Banksy in October last year when his Devolved Parliament painting went under the hammer in the middle of Britain’s Brexit struggle with the EU.
Banksy donated the triptych to raise money for a stroke unit and to buy children’s rehabilitation equipment at the Bethlehem hospital.
“We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources, but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant,” he said in a rare public comment on the piece. “Apple is the world’s most profitable company ... and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.”
Banksy depicted Jobs in a work entitled The Son of a Migrant from Syria that showed him carrying a knapsack and an Apple computer.
The sale came in the middle of a broader virtual auction that Sotheby’s was staging from its London gallery entitled “Rembrandt to Richter Evening Sale.”
One of only three self-portraits by Rembrandt still in private hands sold for ￡4.5 million — a record for one of the Dutch master’s famous depictions of himself.
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