In May 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19 infections in the UK, Banksy gifted a new artwork made in tribute to healthcare workers to Southampton General Hospital in South East England. Ten months later, with the UK on its third wave of the pandemic, the work will be sold to benefit the National Health Services (NHS) in the Christie’s March 23 evening sale, where it is estimated to garner between £2.5 and £3.5 million (~$3.4 to $4.9 million). A reproduction will remain at the hospital, viewable to front line medical workers and their patients.
The hand-painted piece, which measures 3 feet by 3 feet, is titled “Game Changer” (2020). It depicts a young boy playing with a nurse doll, lifting the toy through the air as if it were flying. The doll dons a surgical mask, a superhero’s cape, and the international Red Cross uniform; the red of the cross is the only color in the otherwise achromatic work. The child’s Batman and Spiderman figurines, superheroes of yore, are relegated to a basket set to the side. On May 6, Banksy left the artwork at the hospital with a note reading: “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if its [sic] only black and white.”
Paula Head, CEO of the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said to the BBC that it was a “huge honor” for the hospital to receive the painting in recognition of the contributions of medical workers throughout the pandemic, and characterized the gift as a “massive boost to morale.” The presentation of the work at Christie’s London headquarters this month in advance of the sale marked the first time that “Game Changer” had been displayed outside of the hospital.
In a statement, Katharine Arnold, who co-directs Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art department in Europe, described the work as a “universal tribute to all those fighting worldwide on the frontline of this crisis.” She continued:
At a time when we can dare to hope once more, and look at life beyond the pandemic, it is important to reflect on the many symbols of strength and hope we have seen internationally since the beginning of 2020. Banksy’s “Game Changer” was a beacon of light for the staff and patients at University Hospital Southampton and it was the artist’s wish to then auction it with proceeds benefitting the NHS.
Banksy, who is no stranger to headlines, has also been in the news this month for his latest mural, which is located at a disused prison in Southern England that some campaigners hope will be turned into an arts venue. Banksy spray-painted the work, which depicts an escaped inmate scaling a wall using knotted typewriter pages, at Reading Prison on February 28, posting documentation on Instagram — dubbed with the words of television painter Bob Ross — four days later. On March 16, photographs posted to social media showed that the piece had been freshly defaced with red paint and a “Team Robbo!” tag.
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