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Banksy’s 11 Most Complicated Works

1. Mobile Waterfall Truck

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While Banksy is best known for his stencil-based, spray-painted wall pieces, the artist has continually mixed things up over the years, and he’s taken some big risks with different pieces. One of the first pieces of the “Better Out Than In” show also seems to be one of the most complicated, at least technically speaking, considering it involves a fully working waterfall that travels around the city in the back of a delivery truck. So far, it’s one of two moving trucks (and, yes, he’s even added his touch to stationary vehicles) that Banksy has included in this latest set of works, but its working water and over-the-top whimsy make it feel far more complicated than his cute/disturbing slaughterhouse truck, packed to the gills with mooing and cooing stuffed animals.

2. The Elephant in the Room

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When Banksy hit Los Angeles back in 2006 for his first U.S. exhibition, he brought along traditional works, large-scale pieces, and a literal elephant to fill a room. While it may have been amusing that Banksy titled his showing “Barely Legal,” it wasn’t so funny when U.S. officials deemed his painting of an actual, live elephant named Tai, done up in pink and gold paint to match the wallpaper of a room set-up, actually broke the law: Banksy had the proper permits to include Tai in the exhibition, but painting the pachyderm from trunk to toe was illegal (and quite time-consuming to complete in the first place).

3. Going to the Zoo

Zoochat

Plenty of Banksy pieces have been destroyed or removed, but two of his most ballsy are so hard to find pictures of that they seem more like myth than reality. Those two pieces—some of Banksy’s most dangerous, reckless, and illegal works—briefly had homes at the London Zoo and the Bristol Zoo. In animal enclosures. Which Banksy climbed into in order to tag them. We said “dangerous,” right? The London Zoo penguin enclosure was once home to swimming birds and 7-foot-high letters that read, “We’re bored of fish.” At Bristol, Banksy took to the elephant enclosure to write, "I want out. This place is too cold. Keeper smells. Boring, boring, boring” on a wall. 

4. The West Bank

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In the late summer of 2005, Banksy took to the Israeli West Bank barrier to paint a staggering nine pieces on the wall that separates the country from the landlocked Palestinian territories. Banksy’s work on the Palestinian side is remarkable (and remarkably complicated) for a number of reasons: it’s a politically volatile area that is constantly patrolled, Banksy’s works there are massive, and the pieces all come with a very political bent (and a paradise-seeking theme). While the wall is home to plenty of other protest graffiti, Banksy’s work remains the most well known.   

5. The Phone Box

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When Banksy goes large-scale, he really goes large-scale. In 2006, the artist made a sculpture based on a classic red London phone box (paging Dr. Who), crumpled the thing up, rammed a pickaxe through it, made it look as if it was bleeding, and left it on a side street in the busy Soho section of London. How did he do it? How did no one see? How do you make a phone box sculpture? Who knows? 

6. Guantanamo Bay Comes to Disneyland

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Banksy’s work has always come with political bite, but he took a real chomp out of international politics with a stunt he pulled at Disneyland back in September 2006. The artist snuck in an inflatable doll dressed like a Guantanamo Bay detainment camp prisoner (complete with an orange jumpsuit, black hood, and handcuffs), and then managed to blow up the thing and place it within the confines of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride. The piece stayed up for over an hour, until the ride had to be shut down to remove it. Most people can’t even sneak outside drinks into Disneyland.

7. One Nation Under CCTV

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Perhaps one of Banksy’s most recognizable pieces (though it’s since been removed), the artist took to a large London wall back in April of 2008 to paint his then-biggest work. A commentary on the UK’s widespread use of CCTV cameras to watch its populace, the building-sized piece read “ONE NATION UNDER CCTV,” and featured a depiction of both a child-sized artist and a watchful security guard. The amazing part? Banksy had to scale a wall and erect scaffolding to paint the artwork—located right next to those omnipresent CCTV cameras, which failed to capture the artist. 

8. Artworks in the Museum, New York Edition

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In March of 2005, Banksy subverted the traditional means of getting his artwork into famous museums—he just posted them up himself. He hit four of New York City’s biggest art meccas—the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Museum—mounting up new pieces at each. Most of the pieces stayed up for an entire day before officials noticed that anything was amiss, even as museum patrons eyeballed works they knew weren’t exactly right.

9. Artworks in the Museum, London Edition

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Later that same year, Banksy took his museum-trolling gig back to London, turning his stunts in gallery 49 of the British Museum. There, he posted his version of a cave painting (a primitive hunter, pushing a shopping cart), complete with descriptive placard. Again, the artist added his own work to a famous museum without notice, and the piece stayed up for days. 

10. The Bristol Exhibition

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Four years later, Banksy launched his biggest museum hoax to date—though his exhibition at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery was actually sanctioned and commissioned by the museum. Still, only two officials knew about the installation, and Banksy and his team hit the space in the middle of the night to replace other artworks with a hundred of his own—from a massive truck installation to classic stencils, all the way down to a small, kitted out mouse placed in the museum’s natural history section.

11. Exit Through the Gift Shop

While plenty of artists have made the leap from graphic arts to the big screen, Banksy’s unique film Exit Through the Gift Shop is an exceedingly bold, wacky, and complicated endeavor that stands out amongst its brethren. Sure, the film picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, but the tale of French street artist Thierry Guetta (aka Mr. Brainwash) and his wild ascent to the top tier of his profession is wickedly fun, possibly fake, and perhaps the best insight into who Banksy is yet. The artist reportedly spent a year on editing alone, forced to sift through nearly 10,000 hours of footage shot by Guetta (most of it proving unusable). Of course, that seems complicated and hard enough—but when you consider the widely circulating theory that Banksy himself is Mr. Brainwash, the film itself seems like a bit of a miracle.

 

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.
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History
Mütter Museum Showcases the Victorian Custom of Making Crafts From Human Hair
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

During the Victorian era, hair wasn’t simply for heads. People wove clipped locks into elaborate accessories, encased them in frames and lockets, and used them to make wreaths, paintings, and other items. "Woven Strands," a new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, explores this historical practice by featuring dozens of intricate works culled from five private collections.

According to Emily Snedden Yates, special projects manager at the Mütter Museum, hair work—as it’s called today—was common in England and America between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The popularity of the practice peaked in the 19th century, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s prolonged public mourning after her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861. People in both the UK and U.S. responded to her grief, with the latter country also facing staggering death tolls from the Civil War.

With loss of life at the forefront of public consciousness, elaborate mourning customs developed in both nations, and hair work became part of the culture of bereavement. "[The 19th century was] such a sentimental age, and hair is about sentiment," exhibition co-curator Evan Michelson tells Mental Floss. That sentimental quality made hair work fit for both mourning practices as well as for romantic or familiar displays of fondness.

Palette work culled from the collection of Evan Michelson and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Palette work from the collection of Evan Michelson
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Most hair artworks were made by women, and created solely for the domestic sphere or as wearable trinkets. Women relied on multiple techniques to create these objects, fashioning wreaths with hair-wrapped bendable wires—a process called gimp work—and dissolving ground hair into pigments used to paint images of weeping willows, urns, and grave sites. Watch fobs, necklaces, and bracelets were woven using an approach called table work, which involved anchoring hair filaments with lead weights onto a table and using tools to twist them into intricate patterns through a hole in the furniture’s surface. Yet another technique, palette work, involved stenciled sheets of hair that were cut into various shapes and patterns.

Hair work remained popular until World War I, according to Michelson, who co-owns New York City's quirky Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop and organized "Woven Strands" along with 19th century decorative arts expert John Whitenight.

“Women hit the workforce, and death occurred on such a huge scale that it really swept away the old way of mourning and the old way of doing things,” Michelson says. By the early 20th century, tastes and aesthetics had also changed, with hair work beginning to be viewed “as something grandma had,” she explains.

The Mütter’s exhibition aside, people typically won’t see hair work in major museums. Being a craft primarily performed by women at home, hair works were usually passed down in families and often viewed as worthless from a financial and artistic perspective.

“A lot of hair work was discarded,” Michelson says. Many owners repurposed the shadowbox frames often used to display hair work by removing and tossing the artworks within. Works stored in basements and attics also frequently succumbed to water damage and insects. Antique dealers today typically only see hair jewelry, which often featured semi-precious materials or was encased in a protective layer.

Sepia dissolved hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Sepia dissolved hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Yet examples of hair wreaths, palette work, and other delicate heirlooms do occasionally surface. They’re prized by a small group of avid collectors, even though other connoisseurs can be grossed out by them.

“People have this visceral reaction to it,” Michelson says. “They either gasp and adore it—like ‘I can’t get over how amazing it is’—or they just back away. There are very few other things where people are repulsed like this … In the 19th century no one batted an eyelash.”

“It’s a personal textile,” Snedden Yates explains. “It’s kind of like bone in that it doesn’t really decompose at the same rate as the rest of our bodies do. It’s not made of tissue, so if you keep it in the right environment it can be maintained indefinitely.”

Table work culled from the collection of Eden Daniels and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Table work from the collection of Eden Daniels
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

“Woven Strands” features examples of gimp work, palette work, table work, and dissolved hair work. It’s often hard to trace these types of artworks back to their original creators—they typically don’t bear signatures—but the curators “really wanted to find hair that you could connect to an actual human being,” Michelson says. “We chose pieces that have provenance. We know where they came from or when it was made, or who actually donated the hair in some cases, or what the family name was. We also picked out things that are unusual, that you don’t see often—oddities, if you will.”

Woven hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Woven hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Displayed in the Mütter Museum’s Thomson Gallery, “Woven Strands” opens on January 19, 2018, and runs through July 12, 2018. On April 7, 2018, master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will lead a 19th century hair art workshop, followed by a day-long historical symposium on the art on Sunday, April 8.

Michelson hopes that “Woven Strands” will teach future generations about hair art, and open their minds to a craft they might have otherwise dismissed as parochial or, well, weird. “We hope that people see it and fall in love with it,” she says.

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