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Presenting 'The Banality of The Banality of The Banality of Evil'

Scott Lucas | December 13, 2013 | Story Galleries and Performance

Local conceptual artist Lizabeth Eva Rossof just made a copy of a Banksy painting that she's auctioning on eBay to benefit 826 Valencia, the local writing education non-profit. Except it really isn't a Banksy. And she really didn't paint it. Hold on a minute. We might have to back up here. It's complicated.

In October, the British art provocateur known as Banksy purchased a landscape painting from a New York nonprofit thrift store. It was a pretty, well, banal landscape of a mountain lake complete with fluffy trees and happy little clouds. He stuck a Nazi in uniform reclining on a bench to it, titled it "The Banality of the Banality of Evil," returned the painting to the store with his signature added to it, and it promptly re-sold for $610,000.

Enter Rossof. "I loved it," she said. "But it wasn't like I was going to drop that kind of money for it. So I decided to copy it." Rossof is no stranger to this kind of maneuver. For one of recent projects, entitled Master Copy: The Painters of Xiamen, she enlisted a group of Chinese artists who labor at perfectly reproducing works such as the Mona Lisa and holiday family photos, and with whom Rossof had worked on various projects starting in 2011.

So when Rossof caught wind of Banksy's provocation, she seized the opportunity to take his idea to its logical conclusion. Rossof had commissioned the Xiamen painters she worked with to do straight-ahead reproductions of Banksy's work in the past, which she sold to her friends via Facebook for cost. "But I didn't alter the pieces," she said. "But in this one, we added the balloon, and my signature along with the signature of Mario Ma, the artist in China. It's another layer of appropriation." So now the Nazi, whom Banksy added, is watching a red balloon drift off into the distance. The new title? The Banality of The Banality of the Banality of Evil. Obviously.

But why the balloon? "I grew up with '99 Luftballoons,'" said Rossof. "I must have watched The Red Balloon a million times in the library on 60 mm film when it came out. It's a playful, but very weighted image. There goes another chance for freedom. It's moving away from him much more than he let the balloon go."

The painting will be hanging at the 780 Valencia headquarters of Betabrand, where Rossof works, from today ("I'm hanging it up right after I get off the phone with you.") until the 22nd, when it will be put up for auction on eBay. Proceeds of that sale will go to 826 National, which is the country-wide network of creative writing organization for students run by 826 Valencia.

For her part, Rossof operates as a sort of translator or envoy between the Western art world, which still prizes the single artist like Banksy, and system of anonymous copyists in Xiamen. "My work is driven by the production of ideas, not their production," she said. She originally came upon the operation when the head of Kink, the San Francisco pornographic studio, asked her to help reproduce some of his photography in paint. "It was going to be way too expensive. And none of my friends wanted to do it. But I knew about these Chinese artists." She has worked with them on several projects over the years now. So, what do her compatriots in China think of the game of move and countermove that has unfurled most recently? "I think they probably don't know what to make of what anyone sends them," said Rossof. "Imagine how bizarre it is to do wedding photos or kids in Halloween costumes. I don't know if my stuff is any more bizarre than that."

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