Banksy’s 11 Most Complicated Works
British street artist Banksy has spent the month of October tagging up the walls of New York City as part of his self-launched “Better Out Than In” residency. He’s criss-crossed Manhattan, ventured way out to Brooklyn and Staten Island, zinged back up to the Bronx, and spent plenty of time in Queens, making the five boroughs of NYC both his canvas and his playground. It’s one of his boldest outings yet, and while it’s put a feather (possibly spray-painted on) in the cap of the world’s most famous graffiti practitioner, Banksy has been putting out very complicated works for years now.
1. Mobile Waterfall Truck
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Flickr user MichaelPickard
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
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.