“Nobody ever listened to me until they didn’t know who I was.” — Banksy
The man. The myth. The legend. Street artist know only as Banksy is one of pop culture’s most infamous characters. Since the ’90s, the UK-based phantom has been terrorising streets all over the world with politically fuelled, tongue-in-cheek graffiti and installation art. Love or hate him, we’ve taken a look back at some of our favourite disruptions from the art world’s most notorious prankster.
#5 MONA LISA SMILE
“The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules” — Banksy
The Louvre museum in Paris is home to some of the world’s most prestigious artworks, by some of history’s most famous artists from Rembrandt to Leonardo da Vinci. In 2004, Banksy targeted the crown jewel in the Louvre’s collection, the Mona Lisa. Dressed in a disguise, the artist entered the museum and hung his own acid-smiley-face version while eluding both authorities and museum staff. Ironically, in 2006 the painting sold for over £56,000.
#4 DI-FACED TENNERS
“The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit…” — Banksy
In 2004, during the annual Notting Hill Carnival and Reading Festival, Banksy replaced images of Queen Elizabeth II on the £10 note with an image of the late Princess Diana (awkward!). £1 million worth of the “Di-faced Tenners” were distributed, with some recipients carrying them around for days until they tried to spend them, only to realise then that they were fakes.
#3 ART SALE
“A lot of people never use their initiative because no-one told them to.” —Banksy
In 2013, Banksy set up a pop-up shop in Central Park, New York. What looked like a stall filled with cheap rip-offs of his work, actually turned out to be original stencil artwork by the artist, selling for just $60 (his stencils usually sell for over $20,000). It took four hours before anyone brought any of the merchandise, the first being a woman who actually negotiated the price down before her purchase. A man who brought four of the large artworks said he “was just looking for something to hang on his walls”. All of the stencils were signed by Banksy, one even had his phone number on it.
“You owe the companies nothing. You especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you.” — Banksy
In 2015, Banksy really stepped it up a notch when he created his own distorted version of Disneyland. Titled Dismaland, this twisted theme park was a temporary art installation in the UK that depicted an apocalyptic Magic Kingdom. The tourist brochure read, “are you looking for an alternative to the soulless sugar-coated banality of the average family day out? Or just somewhere cheaper. Then this is the place for you — a chaotic new world where you can escape from mindless escapism.” Some of the main attractions in the park were a ‘Car Crash Princess’, ‘Head in the Clouds’, ‘Burning Archers Books’ and a seedy looking ‘Ice Cream Van’. The park also contained artworks by 57 other artists including Damien Hirst, Jimmy Cauty and Josh Keyes.
#1 SHRED THE LOVE
“Think outside the box, collapse the box, and take a sharp knife to it” — Banksy
One of Banksy’s latest pranks took place in 2018 during a Sotheby’s art auction when one of his most famous stencils ‘Girl with Balloon’ was being auctioned off. As the hammer came down on the winning bid of £1.04m, to the shock of the crowd, the print rolled down through a shredder. Banksy later released a video showing him installing the shredder into the frame a few years before the auction took place, to ensure no one could enjoy it on the chance it was sold one day.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the device malfunctioned and the shredding stopped halfway. Banksy claims in the video that “in rehearsals it worked every time”. The auction house publicly stated that it had no part in the prank, with Sotheby’s senior director Alex Branczik saying, “It appears we just got Banksy-ed”. In the end, the winning bidder decided to keep the piece, with some claiming the prank has ironically increased the arts value.