Laugh Now Sandwich Board-Wearing Monkey is considered to be from the early period of Banksy’s work, the first appearances of the ominous sandwich board monkey being in 2002. This is also the only one of Banksy’s commissioned works that was originally done for a nightclub in Brighton (the city that also hosts another famous piece of work, Kissing Cops.)
The work portrays in monochrome and Banksy’s signature minimal Warholesque style, a very despondent looking monkey with sunken eyes wearing a sandwich board that reads ‘Laugh now but one day we’ll be in charge’. Various versions of this piece appeared in Banksy’s breakthrough Existencilism exhibition, where the monkey hosted other epithets of wisdom for the post-modern century. The most famous of declarations amongst these other versions are “Lying to a cop is never wrong” and “Keep it real”.
The original version of the work sold at Bonham’s in 2008 in a milestone auction for Urban Art, reaching a price of nearly $500,000.
Like all of Banksy’s work, there is multi-textuality of concept and to the visual elements. In simpler words, it means more or could mean more than just one idea. Moreover, this seems to be a conscious intent on Banksy’s part, where the same work is used to create a varied set of meanings (sometimes even opposing ones) and even questions, leaving an individual seeing this piece feeling that there is a joke on them somewhere.
Here the most important elements in the work are the monkey, the sandwich board and the text on it. Sandwich board holders are usually the very bottom of menial labour pool in cities. Similar signs also make appearances in the hands and around the necks of evangelists, homeless eccentrics and harbingers of doom. The monkey here could be an allegory for the new proletariat or working classes, or it could actually be just a monkey being used as a Darwinian reference.
In the case of the former, the piece becomes a commentary on the nature of late-capitalism and the ironic cyclicality of progress as pointed out by some Post-Structural thinkers. It means that the corporate “fat cats”, upper-classes and the petit-bourgeoisie will be eventually so safely integrated into cyber-capitalism and thus give in to decadence and hedonism that they will lose all interest or incentive to stay in power. The downtrodden class will actually end up running the world, ergo being in charge.
This is terrible to think about. However, as stated earlier, there is a joke in here somewhere and we can be pretty sure it’s on us. Ever since Darwin, and we can’t deny it, there is a smugness that permeates modern human condition. The ape is seen as a distant and embarrassing relation on the evolutionary ladder – a caricature of the human. However, due to the self-destructive, greedy and narcissistic nature of the modern human (wars, ecological disaster, and epidemics) the ape might well be the next primate candidate in the planets election for leadership. In the simplest and nicest words possible, humans will “screw up things so bad” that monkeys will actually be in charge. One is reminded of the laconic candor of Huxley’s words:
“Ends are ape-chosen; only the means are man's...” (From Ape and Essence)
Specialists in Banksy prints and urban art, Contemporary Art Trader can help you find your very own, authentic Laugh Now Sandwich Board-Wearing Monkey, signed or unsigned. For any queries you may have, contact us today.