Contemporary street art the likes of Banksy and Shepard Fairley was on sale yesterday, Sunday 13, at an art auction in Balmain. From 11-1, in Balmain Town Hall, people wandered through the main hall, up a short flight of stairs, looking at works by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Mr Brainwash, David Bromley, Ben Frost and others up for auction. Ranging from $100-$15,000, the works encompassed the cult expression of street art, which translates to images of pop culture blasting on each canvas: Mickey Mouse, Jimmy Hendricks, John Lennon, an image of Marilyn Monroe crossing guns in front of her chest a la Chopper Reed, endless cleavages, a Playboy cover named ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’, Charlie Chaplin cameos in contemporary America holding spray cans, and the piece de resistance: Banksy’s ‘No ball games’ showing two children throwing a sign stating ‘No ball games.’
Free food and booze, otherwise known as ‘refreshments’, were offered on the side of the room while people tracked which paintings they were after. However, once the biddings commenced, it was clear that there were no serious takers. The auctioneer frequently made comments on how expensive the items had been overseas, and it was clear by his expression that he was disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm, with Banksy and Fairley works being sold for much less than was asked, while others, such as Sydney Nolan’s ‘Skeletal Figure’ and Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘The Next Wave Festival’ being passed in.
So what was the problem? Were these pieces just simply too expensive for the bidders? Or, as is my suspicion, is art something more laissez faire in Australia, something viewed with a little less enthusiasm and passion? Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, Europe’s zest for all things social and cultural best’s Australia’s efforts, whose own enthusiasm for art seems less than extraordinary.
As the lots neared the end, the hall emptied and the echoes grew throughout the large hall, the carriers dripping with sweat. With most of the works selling under their official price, one wonders where Art, with a capital A, is going in Australia.