For every art movement in the past century, there has been one seminal exhibition; one show that that has opened the floodgates of interest from critics, collectors, and copycats. For Pop Art, it was the American Supermarket show; for contemporary installation art, it was the Young British Artists shows. For graffiti and street art, that exhibition was Barely Legal. It was 2006, it was Los Angeles, and it was an exhibition of works by Banksy in a warehouse that turned the art world on its ear almost instantaneously. The “Barely Legal Print Set,” as six particular Banksy street art prints are known, are the most coveted artworks by Banksy from the exhibition. They are also the most rare and valuable screen print sets in urban art.
The iconic Barely Legal Print Set began production in July 2006 when Banksy approached respected Los Angeles printmaker Richard Duardo of Modern Multiples about creating new original works for his September exhibition. Duardo had been recommended to Banksy by fellow street artist Shepard Fairey. After securing the job, the late Duardo recounted that he did not hear again from Banksy until 10 days prior to the exhibition, when he flew into Los Angeles with his artwork ready for reproduction. The Modern Multiples team worked tirelessly for the next week producing six prints in editions of 100 each, with six Printer’s Proofs per image that were signed by Banksy and embossed with the insignia of Pictures On Walls, Banksy’s UK-based printer of record. There was originally supposed to be a seventh print depicting an aristocrat being hit in the face with a pie, but the print was dropped to due time constraints and the print’s complexity for color layers.
Applause differs from thew rest of the Banksy artworks in the limited edition Barely Legal print set because of its size. Whereas the other five prints in the set measure approximately 76 cm x 57 cm, Applause measures 114 cm x 76 cm. It is also the most detailed screen print in the Barely Legal print set, resembling a detailed sketch rather than a stencil. Banksy used a well-known source image of former American President George W. Bush de-planing a military bomber. A figure in the foreground holds up a cue card with the word “APPLAUSE” emblazoned across it, as if to say, “You are expected to act like this man who sent your country to war is a hero, so act like it.” The viewer becomes a participant in an absurd talk show where pointless and perhaps even egregious activities are applauded simply because someone told them it was the appropriate time to do so. Bansky’s friend and fellow graffiti writer Shepard Fairey explained the artwork by saying “These things are ridiculous and we should recognize them as ridiculous.”
Applause was also created as a painting on canvas at the Barely Legal exhibition. After Modern Multiples printed the original editions of 100 for Barely Legal, POW took over and released an additional edition of 650 urban art prints for sale, with 100 signed.
When Barely Legal opened to the public on September 16, 2006, it was enormously well-attended by arts aficionados, curious museum curators, and a list of celebrities from Angelina Jolie to Jude Law. Among the highlights of the exhibition were an Indian elephant painted to match brocade wallpaper, a graffiti-covered van, and numerous paintings and installations. Banksy sold the unsigned prints for $500 apiece. After the show ended, Pictures On Walls ordered Modern Multiples to destroy the plates for the Barely Legal Print Set. Pictures On Walls produced their own limited edition run of the set in late 2006 with 50 signed and 100 unsigned editions of each print. Many sets were broken up at that time and over the years as Banksy’s value rose, and to possess a matched set is a very rare and wonderful acquisition indeed. Barely Legal spurred the first major museum exhibitions of street art, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’ Art In The Streets, which is the institution’s highest attendance exhibition to date.
This is the largest size Banksy edition ever produced measuring over 1 metre wide.