Banksy’s Game Changer was sold for £16,758,000 / $23,176,314 / €19,422,522 at Christie’s on 23 March 2021, in the 20th Century Art Evening Sale. Proceeds from the sale of the artwork will be used to support health organisations and charities across the UK that enhance the care and treatment provided by the NHS. Christie’s will donate a significant portion of the Buyer’s Premium to these causes.
On 6 May 2020, during the first wave of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a painting by Banksy appeared in University Hospital Southampton. Banksy’s gift to the hospital was always intended to be sold. Through Southampton Hospitals Charity, proceeds from the sale will be used to fund wellbeing projects for staff and patients and distributed to a wider community of healthcare providers both within the NHS and charitable sectors. A reproduction will remain on view for future patients, visitors, and staff at the hospital. Appearing at a time when countries across the world applauded their frontline workers from their doorsteps during the first global lockdown, and painted rainbows in support, Game Changer spoke directly to the international zeitgeist.
Katharine Arnold, Co-Head, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Europe, Christie’s: “It has been a great privilege to work on the sale of Game Changer. On a day of national reflection, marking one year since the first lockdown in Britain and with so many lives lost around the world, it feels very meaningful to have raised £XX / $XX / €XX. Proceeds from the sale of the artwork will be used to support health organisations and charities across the UK that enhance the care and treatment provided by the NHS. Banksy is an extraordinary artist who is a constant barometer of nationwide sentiment. With the perfect image of a little boy playing with his superhero doll; a nurse sporting the international Red Cross, he perfectly captured the essence of this moment in time. As we have turned our focus towards our families and those we love we express our gratitude to the people who continue to fight on the frontline against COVID 19.”
David French, Interim Chief Executive Officer at University Hospital Southampton: “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 Trust is part of a much wider community of healthcare providers both within the NHS and charitable sectors and it’s required a collective effort to manage and support the most vulnerable and unwell within our community over the last year. The lessons we’ve learnt throughout the pandemic will no doubt see a fundamental shift to more collaborative ways of working into the future and we’re delighted that proceeds from the auction of Game Changer will also go to benefit the work of our wider partners and help us all to deliver a more integrated and improved care system for patients.”
In crisp, linear detail, Game Changer, which is hand-painted, shows a young boy playing with a selection of superhero dolls. In the painting, Batman and Spiderman lie discarded in a bin; instead, the child clutches a new idol. A masked nurse dressed in the international uniform of the Red Cross soars to the rescue, her cape fluttering and arm outstretched towards the sky. When first unveiled, the picture was accompanied by a note: ‘Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if it’s only black and white.’
Charged with the expressive detail of a children’s book illustration, it is an image of quiet poignancy. The composition is monochrome, save for the red cross that glows from the nurse’s uniform. It captures a moment of unstudied innocence, registering the play of light and shadow across the boy’s face, hair and clothes. He appears to look towards a brighter dawn, safe in the knowledge that real superheroes do walk among us.
In a time of rapid and unsteady change, Game Changer ultimately offers an image of hope. Irreverence, parody and calls to arms are absent: instead, it represents a personal tribute to those who continue to turn the tide of the pandemic. Its style is one of nostalgic purity, yet its message looks firmly towards the future. As an artwork, however, it will remain forever a symbol of its time: a reminder of the world’s real game changers, and of the vital work they perform.