LONDON: Congo became the world’s only chimpanzee to have his paintings sold at an auction when three paintings by the ape fetched more than £14,000. The Bonhams auction house witnessed wild scenes as the paintings by the chimp sold for more than 20 times their estimate.
At the auction, household names in the art world like Andy Warhol, Jake and Dinos Chapman and other contemporary artists took a backseat as the three abstract paintings created by Congo in 1957 got tangled in a bidding war.
Howard Hong, a Californian telecommunications consultant, who ended up winning the paintings, said, “Many people have said to me, ‘There is a cheaper solution. Buy a chimpanzee and put it in a room with some paper and paint’,” he said. “But on a purely artistic level, when I saw the paintings they struck me. (The style) looks like an early Kandinsky. My only upset is that Congo never titled his paintings. It is said that what makes us human is our ability to conceive of abstract concepts. This totally contradicts that theory.” He added that he was prepared to bid double the eventual amount for the paintings. He even labeled Congo as “the ultimate chimp of the art world”.
A Bonham’s spokesman said, “It was quite an historic moment and it was fantastically exciting. People seem to see these paintings as the truest form of creativity.” Howard Rutkowski, Bonhams’s director of impressionist and modern art, said, “It is not just any chimp — it is Congo. If you own a Congo you are in the company of Picasso and Miró. Desmond Morris traded Congo’s paintings with those artists. Perhaps Miró’s Congo is worth more than Morris’s Miró.”
Congo has created more than 400 drawings under the guidance of Desmond Morris, the zoologist and anthropologist. Morris even presented Congo as the star of Zootime, an animal programme presented from London Zoo. He became famous when the Institute of Contemporary Arts mounted a large exhibition of his work in 1957.
Morris has recorded a statement saying, “It was truly art for art’s sake. Congo became increasingly obsessed with his regular painting sessions. If I tried to stop him before he had finished a painting, he would have a screaming fit. And if I tried to persuade him to go on painting after he considered that he had finished a picture, he would stubbornly refuse.”
The champion chimp died of tuberculosis in 1964. He was 10.