Artist pulls off Banksy-inspired stunt at Toronto exhibit
The Banksy-inspired piece, titled 'Free-For-All,' was tacked on wall of a Toronto gallery exhibiting the artist's work. It criticizes the idea of paying $35 admission to see art that once existed on the street.
Published Wednesday, July 4, 2018 6:14PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 4, 2018 9:24PM EDT
Graffiti artist Banksy has earned international fame for installing politically-inspired guerrilla art in public spaces, from posh streets in Britain to the walls of the West Bank.
The mysterious artist -- who has never confirmed his true identity -- is known for satirical pieces that shine a spotlight on issues like consumerism, war and global warming.
It was that spirit of social commentary that inspired a Toronto-based artist to briefly execute his own Banksy-like stunt.
On Tuesday, Tharanga Ramanayake paid the $35 admission to enter “The Art of Banksy,” an exhibit of the artist’s works, with an artwork of his own stuffed inside his bag.
The framed image shows a road leading to Banksy’s artwork on the street. The piece depicted in the image is “Trolley Hunters,” which was stolen from the Toronto gallery in June. But a red-and-white blockade blocks access to the artwork, and a small sign -- “Admission $35” -- is pasted to the front.
The piece, titled “Free-For-All,” was tacked on the gallery wall beside Banksy’s art with a strip of adhesive Velcro. It included a small plaque with a brief description: "Theft is bringing street art inside and then charging an admission fee."
In an interview with CTVNews.ca, Ramanayake, who works as a movie trailer editor, said he has no affiliation to Banksy or the exhibit, and that the piece was intended to poke fun at the idea of paying to see art that once lived on the street.
“It’s rather insulting to the exhibitor. This guerrilla art sends a message that street art should not be in a gallery and shouldn't be charged an admission fee,” he wrote in an email.
The piece was only up for a few minutes when a spectator noticed it and pointed it out to someone affiliated with the exhibit, which is partly sponsored by Bell.
It was quickly removed and given back to the artist, organizers said, adding that the gesture appeared to be inspired by Banksy himself, who secretly installed his own pieces in a number of New York galleries in the mid-2000s.
“Our security footage shows the patron spending over an hour enjoying the artworks on display prior to him attempting to ‘enhance’ our carefully curated collection,” organizers said in a statement.
Corey Ross, producer of Starvox Entertainment, which organized the show, said Ramanayake will not face any consequences.
But Ross disagreed with the artist’s critique about paying to see public art.
“That’s a misunderstanding,” Ross said. “We haven’t taken art that was painted on a wall in the public and taken it down and are charging people to see it.”
Rather, Ross said, the exhibit profiles Banksy pieces from private collections that the public wouldn’t otherwise be able to view in the street.
“It’s really a rare chance for the public to see that art,” he said. “People don’t usually see these pieces.”
Just like Banksy, Ramanayake opted to keep his identity anonymous during his correspondence, and emailed photos of the stunt to a group of journalists with the username “Banksy Banksy.”
On Wednesday morning, he sent a series of tweets revealing himself as the culprit.
Ramanayake said part of the reason he named himself was out of concern that someone might misconstrue the stunt and think he had something to do with the stolen art.
He also politely disagreed with Ross about the “misunderstanding.” Ramanayake said Banksy originally created the artwork on the street, and the pieces were later sold to private buyers.
“They may be owned by a private collector at the moment but they were originally left on the street,” he said.
But he also said he understands that some pieces were removed from public spaces to avoid being painted over.
“So I also see the point that it should be saved as well,” he said.
As far as politically-inspired guerrilla art goes, there doesn’t appear to be any bad blood between the artist and organizers. Ramanayake said security was polite and someone affiliated with the gallery came over to chat after his frame was returned.
“It was very friendly. They kind of liked the effort I put into it as well.”