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Banksy's Game Changer sells for record £16.7m in aid of charities supporting the NHS

The work appeared suddenly last May at the University Hospital Southampton as a thank you to its staff during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic

Banksy's Game Changer Courtesy of Christie's

Banksy's painting Game Changer has today sold for a record £14.4m (£16.7m with fees) at Christie's in London against its estimate of £2.5m-£3.5m. All of the hammer price will be donated by the artist to "help support health organisations and charities across the UK that enhance the care and treatment provided by the NHS", a statement says. Christie’s will "donate a significant portion of the Buyer’s Premium to these causes" too.

After lengthy competitive bidding, two bidders—one an online bidder in the British Virgin Islands the other on the phone with Christie's Tessa Lord—ended up locking horns for the work. It was knocked down eventually to Lord's phone bidder.

The previous record for a work by Banksy was set in 2019 by the enormous 2009 canvas Devolved Parliament, which sold at Sotheby's in London for £8.5m (£9.9m including fees).

Game Changer, an original work on canvas, appeared suddenly last May at the University Hospital Southampton as a thank you, Banksy says, to the staff during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. It depicts a little boy playing with superhero toys, discarding Batman and Spiderman and instead choosing to play with a masked nurse in the Red Cross uniform.

The canvas was accompanied by a note when it appeared, reading: "Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if it’s only black and white." A reproduction will remain on view at the hospital.

David French, the interim chief executive at University Hospital Southampton, says: “This incredible gift will be invaluable in helping us to focus on promoting and protecting the welfare of our staff as they heal and recover from the last year. As a charitable gift it ensures our staff have a say in how money is spent to benefit them, our patients and our community and is a fantastic way to thank and reward them for the sacrifices they’ve made."

The Banksy was among the cluster of early lots in Christie’s 20th Century Art Evening Sale—a bit of a misnomer since the sale actually started in the afternoon and the first batch of works offered were not made in the 20th century at all, but rather in the past couple of years.

Most of the day's excitement centred on the first ten items, including the $41.7m Basquiat notionally sold in Hong Kong as a single lot sale, but also listed as “lot 1” for the ensuing auction. The rest of the sale—of 20th century works by everyone from Dubuffet to Picasso to Bacon to Sisley—trundled along well enough. Christie’s may just have rebranded their Impressionist and Modern art, and post-war and contemporary art sales into 20th and 21st Century Art auctions, but this event read more as “an assortment of things we can find and think we can sell”.

With little opportunity to spend, money was burning holes in some high-net-worth pockets as some very fresh works by hard-to-get younger artists—bought in the past few years directly from their galleries—were presented on the secondary market.

Joy Labinjo’s canvas, No Wahala (2019), sold for £120,000 (£150,000 with fees) against an estimate of £30,000 to £40,000 Courtesy of Christie’s

Lot 2, for example—Joy Labinjo’s 2019 canvas, No Wahala, bought in 2019 from the relatively young London gallery Tiwani Contemporary. Artnet’s price database lists this as only the third work by the 26-year-old British artist ever to appear at auction. It sold for £120,000 (£150,000 with fees) against an estimate of £30,000 to £40,000. That just scrapes a new record for the artist, beating the $189,000 (including fees) paid at Phillips in New York last December—a result that may well have encouraged this vendor to consign.

Then followed another 2019 work, by the much in demand London-based painter Issy Wood, titled Over Armour (non-linear, non-violent), which sold for double its estimate at £200,000 (£250,000 with fees)—the first work by the artist ever to appear at auction. Wood is also in her late 20s and this painting had been bought just two years ago from the London-based Carlos Ishikawa Gallery.

Considering how quickly it was resold, it seems unlikely the consignor will be allowed to buy again from that gallery anytime soon. A spokesperson for Tiwani Contemporary tells The Art Newspaper that the consignor of the Labinjo work will not be sold works by the gallery again.

Tessa Lord, the head of Christie’s evening auction in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Department in London, said following the sale that this result had been buoyed by Wood’s recent show at the X Museum in Beijing. “It is a privilege to be involved in artists’ markets for their first time at auction,” Lord says. “We are keen to develop these artists.”

The next lot, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s The Like Above All Lovers (2013), was bought by the vendor from Corvi Mora, another mid-tier London gallery, which has nurtured the artist for many years. Response to this work was surprisingly a little flat, and it sold for £410,000 (£512,500 with fees) against an estimate of £400,000 to £600,000.

Bidding on Claire Tabouret’s three-metre-wide canvas The Last Day (2016) started at the high estimate of £200,000 and it sold for £500,000 (£622,500 with fees) Courtesy of Christie’s

But bidding for lot 5, the French-born, Los Angeles-based Claire Tabouret’s wonderful 3m-wide canvas The Last Day, was anything but tepid. Painted in 2016 and bought by the vendor from Night Gallery in Los Angeles, bidding started at the high estimate of £200,000 and it sold for £500,000 (£622,500 with fees) to a last-minute phone bid from Christie’s Andre Zlattinger. That again is a new record for Tabouret, beating the previous high of HK$3.5m ($451,607 with fees) for Les déguisements (Disguises) at Phillips Hong Kong last July.

Then, a few lots later, came the late Matthew Wong’s bucolic untitled landscape from 2017, bought the same year from Karma Gallery in New York. Estimated at £500,000 to £700,000, it sold for £2.2m (£2.7m with fees), a continuation of the heady auction prices set for Wong’s work since his death, aged only 35, in 2019.

In the post-sale press conference, Guillaume Cerutti, the chief executive of Christie’s, described the sale as the “first important sale in London post-Brexit”. In total, the Basquiat auction, 20th Century Art Evening Sale and Art of the Surreal sale combined made £198.7m (including fees), well over estimate with a strong 93% of the 82 lots sold. The sales were, according to Christie’s, watched online by around 400,000 people.