Shredding his own painting is just the latest in a line of pranks from the enigmatic artist
Last Friday, one of Banksy’s most famous pieces, “Girl With Balloon”, self-destructed after being sold at Sotheby’s for a cool £1.02 million. Onlookers watched in a mix of horror and amusement as the canvas was destroyed by a shredder installed in the frame by Banksy himself. As often is the case with the anonymous artist, opinion was split. The Washington Post dubbed it “one of the most memorable art prank(s) in years”, but cynics were quick to chime in too.
What might have appeared to be a protest directed at the art world – occurring in the middle of Frieze week – the self-destruction seems to have actually increased the painting’s worth by twenty percent. It’s also been reported that the painting was sold in the final lot of the auction, leading people to believe that Banksy and the auction house were in fact in cahoots to end with a bang... and pick up some press. However, Sotherby’s has claimed innocence and Banksy was quick to take to his Instagram page to quote Picasso: “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge”.
Despite which side of the Banksy fence you sit, it made us #tbt to the artist’s early career, when he would sneak into some of the world’s biggest institutions and stick his art on the wall. While his notoriety grew, evidently these ‘pranks’ became less and less. However, as the world still spins from the shredding of “Girl With Balloon”, we look back on some of the elusive artist’s other disruptions. Love him or hate him, you have to lol... at least a little.
THE TATE BRITAIN PRANK: OCTOBER 2003
One of the earliest Banksy pranks took place at the Tate Britain in October 2003. Wearing a disguise, the artist was photographed entering the second floor of the museum carrying a large package. If you search for the photo online, you can see Banksy placing the painting on Tate Britain’s walls next to some renowned 19th-century landscapes. The painting was called “Crimewatch UK Has Ruined the Countryside For All of Us”, and depicted a peaceful, pastoral scene covered with blue and white police tape. At the time, The Guardian reported that the painting was later removed by security and placed in “lost property”.
THE LOUVRE: 2004
Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is one of the most famous portraits ever painted. Everyone, even those who could care less about art, know this coy portrait. You know this, I know this, Banksy knows this. That’s why he saw it fitting to put his version of the painting up in Paris’s Louvre. The Banksy twist was that his version had a yellow, acid-smiley face, and he dubbed it “Mona Lisa Smile”. In 2006, the painting sold for more than £56,000 at auction at Sotherby’s.
THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM: 2004
The graffiti artist dressed up as a museum employee and snuck into the Natural History Museum. He placed his piece, “Banksus Militus Ratus”, next to some ancient artefacts. The piece detailed a stuffed rat wearing a backpack and holding a microphone, and the phrase “our time will come” was spray painted behind it. The prank was so precisely done that even museum staff failed to realise that the rodent wasn’t part of the display: “I saw a member of staff walk up to it, check it was attached properly, read the text and walk away”, Steve Lazarides (gallery owner and Banksy’s manager) said at the time.
THE BRITISH MUSEUM: MAY 2005
Cave paintings are the world’s most primitive form of art. They question the origin and the meaning behind our place on earth. “Peckham Rock” – a very normal piece of concrete depicting a stick figure and a shopping trolley – was Banksy’s contribution to this ancient art form. After smuggling it into the British Museum, the work sat there for three whole days before the museum realised the mocking nature of the piece. Curators were incredibly embarrassed and completely bemused to how it ever ended up there. It was reported in May of this year that “Peckham Rock” will make a triumphant return to the museum as part of an exhibition curated by The Private Eye editor, Ian Hislop.
DISNEYLAND FLORIDA: SEPTEMBER 2006
Disneyland is a reoccurring idea for Banksy, as we saw with his own version of the park amusingly named, Dismaland. In 2006, a year after the Louvre stunt, Banksy went to Disneyland and erected a life-size, inflatable doll dressed as a Guantanamo detainee. The sculpture stayed there for about one hour until it was removed by staff. It was reported that the stunt “was intended to highlight the plight of terror suspects at the controversial detention centre in Cuba”. Because apparently, 2006 is the olden days, here’s a very low-res video to show you what happened and how.