The Art World's Greatest Prankster

by Electric Gallery
Tuesday 29 March 2022

Every Day Is April Fool’s For Banksy

The world’s best known street artist has built an entire career out of executing witty, original stunts and pranks. Usually to make a point about the hypocrisy of politicians, or to ridicule the stuffiness of the art world, or puncture the pomposity of a world leader. Key to his installations is their element of surprise. You don’t know he’s done it until light comes up and there, all of a sudden, is a new piece of art in an unexpected place.

In a rare interview, Banksy said not getting caught was all part of the thrill. "The art to it is not getting picked up for it,” he told the Guardian, “and that's the biggest buzz at the end of the day because you could stick all my shit in the Tate Modern and have an opening with Tony Blair and Kate Moss on Rollerblades handing out vol-au-vents and it wouldn't be as exciting."

Banksy has been pranking the world since the very earliest days of his working life. In the early 2000s he installed a smiley-face Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris. A year later he smuggled a dummy of an orange jumpsuited political prisoner into the scenery in Disneyworld Florida.

But we probably love most the tricks he pulled on an unsuspecting British establishment. Starting 19 years ago with…

The Tate Britain Prank

Bansky was already a recognised talent in the art world but this was the stunt that put him on the map with the general public. In a disguise he was photographed walking into the second floor of the museum carrying a large package. Inside was a painting of a traditional landscape – Constable would have been proud – with police tape across it. He unwrapped it and placed it on the gallery walls with an information ticket which read: "This new acquisition is a beautiful example of the neo post-idiotic style. Little is known about Banksy whose work is inspired by cannabis resin and daytime television." The painting, the caption added, “was presented by the artist personally."

The Hoax Caveman Painting

The Peckham Rock was a standard lump of old concrete with a stick figure drawn pushing a shopping trolley which Banksy surreptitiously placed into an exhibition of cave paintings in the British Museum in 2005. He claimed that it took the staff three days to spot it, though the museum rather haughtily claimed it was only a day. They got the joke eventually though and in 2018 they exhibited it again rather more triumphantly.

The Dead Rat In The Natural History Museum

You’d have thought institutions would have learned by now right? Wrong. Some years ago Banksy managed to smuggle a stuffed rat in a glass box into the Natural History museum in South Kensington where it was exhibited for several hours. It was dressed in wraparound sunglasses, had a rucksack on, and was holding a microphone. According to Banksy’s manager, one member of staff even went to check the exhibit, read the label and ensure it was firmly attached before walking away.

Girl With Balloon, Shredded

We've all seen the video but it’s definitely worth another look. In 2018 at Sotheby’s a Banksy artwork Girl With Balloon was sold at auction for £1.02m. The moment the auctioneer’s gavel came crashing down a bleeping noise could be heard from the artwork and as the crowd turned back to look at it they saw, to audible gasps, the artwork being slowly fed down through a shredder hidden in the frame. Awful news for the buyer? Actually the opposite – the value of the artwork immediately leapt by 20%. Banksy later explained that he had secretly installed a shredder in the frame for this very purpose, as you can see on the video here

Recent news