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CCTV footage of Banksy theftToronto Police

Why do people think Banksy may have 'stolen' his own print?

Artist. Oscar Nominee. Thief?

Natalie Ktena
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When an original print by street artist Banksy was taken from a Toronto exhibition last week, a whodunnit to rival all your favourite true crime dramas began.  Reports on the missing "Trolley Hunter" print, said to be worth $35,000, spread online, with Toronto police releasing this CCTV footage:

YouTube video thumbnail

Dressed in rolled-up jeans, with a cap and jacket collar lifted to cover their face, the disguise was simple and effective.

No arrests have been made, but Twitter detectives have gone into overdrive. And one very compelling theory has emerged. The prime suspect in the case of who took the Banksy painting wasn’t a professional criminal à la Ocean’s 8. According to social media: the culprit, they believe may, in fact, be Banksy himself.

Some even commented on the manner in which the painting was stolen:

It does all seem a little Pink Panther.

But Banksy is an artist whose work can command millions at auction -  taking to a life of crime seems like an odd career move.

His most lucrative sale was Keep it Spotlessa collaboration with Damien Hirst which raked in a staggering $1.8m in 2008 (that's approximately £1.4m). Not only is he the breakthrough star of the street art world, but back in 2007 he was voted the Greatest Living Briton in the Arts, and in 2011 even earned himself an Oscar nomination for his documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop.

So does his CV now read: Artist, Oscar Nominee, Thief? 

The print that was stolenToronto Police Service
The print that was stolen

Well, no, probably not. In fact BBC Three spoke exclusively to Pest Control, the organisation which authenticates all of Banksy's work, who said this: "To set the record straight, we'd like to make it clear that this is a publicity stunt, created by the organisers of the unauthorised and illegitimate travelling show. Every time their show opens in a different city, the organisers fabricate some ridiculous story to try and attract attention and sell tickets."

Which will probably have all the armchair detectives out there deleting their latest Reddit posts.

Still, why were so many fans quick to point the finger at Banksy himself?

Banksy is no stranger to stunts

His street stencils may have been scrawled on walls from Bristol to Melbourne, but Banksy does like a stunt. In fact, his stunts are as famous as (if not more than) his street art.  

In 2006 he grabbed headlines by placing a live elephant in a living room at his Barely Legal exhibition to show how world poverty is ignored (the elephant in the room...get it?).

In the same year he also placed a life-size replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee in a Disneyland theme park, to highlight the struggles of those in the camp. 

In 2013 he set up an unassuming street stall among others in New York’s Central Park selling signed original canvases for the small price of $60. Videos show passers-by ignore the art, some of which had an estimated worth of $185,000. It’s painful viewing - so close to riches, yet so very far. 

Banksy has also taken his stunts to galleries. 

In 2006, he staged his own ‘hang and run’ where he surreptitiously placed his own pieces of art in four New York museums, without being noticed by security. So perhaps another attempt to slip by gallery security would be no biggie? 

Not to mention the fact he has, in the past, said: “I think a museum is a bad place to look at art; the worst context for art is other art.”

It’s 2018 and we still don’t have a clue who Banksy is

You would probably have a good chance of working out whether or not the man in the video is Banksy. That is, if anyone had a clue what Banksy actually looks like. 

Banksy’s true identity has never been disclosed, a secret he has kept since he first started working in the nineties. 

There is limited information out there for the curious – Guardian journalist Simon Hattenstone met the artist in 2003 for an interview and described him as “white, 28, scruffy casual”. Yup, that narrows it down then.

Scientists at Queen Mary University of London even claimed to confirm a theory that he is a man named Robin Gunningham, by carrying out a statistical geo-profile. And yet, still no official word. 

So while no one can be sure whether he is the thief on CCTV, no one can disprove the theory either.

Is it a political statement?

Banksy does not shy away from politics and has used his art to make statements on issues such as world povertyclimate change and conflict.

With a reputation for creating anti-capitalist work, you might understand how he could have an issue with the $35 price tag that gets you into this exhibition. Especially given that street art, traditionally, belongs to the streets.

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Though his sales will have earned him some serious dollar, Banksy has been known to ridicule those willing to fork out for his work. After a successful auction of an item at Sotheby’s that earned him about £200,000, he posted a photo to his website saying, “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this ****.”

The "theft" could, in fact, be a silent protest.

The exhibition isn't endorsed by Banksy

The organiser of this exhibition is Steve Lazarides, the agent who Banksy worked with for 10 years before parting ways. All the prints featured in the exhibition were sold commercially before making their way into this collection, meaning Banksy himself would not have been involved in its curation.   

“He’s a control freak and he likes things done his way,” Lazarides told CBC Toronto. “He’d probably hate it to be honest.

So, could the theft be an act of retaliation?

Realistically, there is still no solid evidence which links Banksy to the incident - but it certainly has gotten people thinking more seriously about the wider meanings behind his work.

And someone quietly walking away with a valuable piece certainly wouldn’t be the weirdest art heist the world has seen.

Security protests

In 2003, paintings by Gauguin, Picasso and Van Gogh worth around £4 million were stolen from the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. Rather than sell these for a pretty penny, the thieves were instead stealing them to make a point – the security at the gallery was pretty shoddy.

The thieves bypassed the alarm system, unscrewed the paintings and exited through the back door and a hole in a chainlink fence without being detected. This event also happened on Saturday but nobody noticed they were gone until the Sunday.

Point proven.

When they were found by a disused public toilet following a 999 call, the tube in which they were placed bore a message: "We did not intend to steal these paintings, just to highlight the woeful security."

Trollstation fake heist

What’s more crazy than an art heist  - a fake art heist 

YouTube pranksters Trollstation caused panic at the National Gallery when they set up a fake heist, all in the name of an online video.

During the art hoax, members of the group carried fake paintings into the gallery. Following a siren they set off, the group then pulled tights over their heads, grabbed the paintings and started running. The hoax created mass panic, with many being trampled on while trying to leave the gallery.

The group were eventually jailed with magistrates warning their stunts could have caused fatalities.

The idea of an artist stealing their own art may not be that weird after all.

So is it Banksy or just a Canadian hipster? The jury's still out...