Amsterdam gallery owner recalls how sale of Banksy work saved staff jobs

By Daniel Boffey

The owner of an art museum in Amsterdam who sold a prized Banksy painting for £1.5m to avoid laying off staff during the coronavirus pandemic has told how her employees gathered around the canvas to give thanks.

Kim Logchies-Prins, co-founder with her husband, Lionel, of the Moco museum of modern, contemporary and street art, said she joined 20 of the office staff to pay respects and say goodbye to Banksy’s Monkey Poison, following its sale to an anonymous US buyer at an auction in New York.

A few months later, Logchies-Prins received an email from the buyer offering to lend the work to the museum for “at least a year”.

“It was just a miracle,” Logchies-Prins said.

The Moco museum like others in the Netherlands was forced to close its doors in March until the summer and has been at the whim of the country’s coronavirus regulations ever since. These days it can expect around 200 visitors on a Monday compared with 2,000 before the crisis.

The Moco museum in Amsterdam.
The Moco museum in Amsterdam. Photograph: Ana Fernandez/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

The Dutch government pays the wages of staff but companies must still pay taxes despite many earning little or no income.

Logchies-Prins said she had no doubt that she was doing the right thing in selling the painting in July despite it being one of the artist’s much-loved “crude oils”, a series of classical paintings updated with Banksy’s iconic figures. The museum has around 60 permanent and part-time employees.

She said: “In April and May we thought that we had to be safe. We have been open for four and a half years and we are a new museum and it takes a while to have the perfect staff, the perfect family crew. And we just had it. Letting someone go felt really bad.

“And you felt the pressure with the team. They had friends working in hotels and other museums who were let go so the museum was getting scared and we wanted to take that away.

“I never want to sell, I really like to build. But my husband was amazed because I really felt like, no, it is okay. It is so okay. I don’t know what it was.

“We told the staff and they really appreciated it. But they really also appreciated the art. So we thanked the piece for all the good years, all the memories. We all sat together in front of the painting, looking at the painting.”

Banksy’s 2004 Monkey Poison features one of the artist’s most common characters, the chimpanzee, spray painted on a reproduced Old Master work in gold gilded frame depicting an idyllic pastoral scene. The cartoon-character monkey is glugging on a can of oil as he looks over the canvass.

Before the sale, Jean Paul Engelen from Phillips Auction House in New York, where the painting had an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000, said: “It is a 19th-century painting, obviously a found object that shows what life should look like, what ideal inspiration of humankind should be. Banksy then mocks it. He mocks the 19th-century art, he mocks the idealistic vision of what we would be by showing us what we did become, simply gas-guzzling monkeys.”

“We bought it a few years ago, it is one of our good pieces,” Logchies-Prins said. “The crude oils are the most loved pieces by Banksy because they are very unique. He paints over a painting that he has found. That is why it is called crude oils, also called vandalised art.

“It is a beautiful painting and then a monkey sits with bottle of poison like he wants to put it on fire or something. I like almost all of his crude oils because there is always a story in it. You can see his mind working on it. And you see his real painting skills.”