A few weeks ago, contemporary artist, Pascal Guérineau entered the Louvre, looked over his shoulder, and surreptitiously affixed his small painting of two skulls to the wall. This strange incident was not Guérineau’s first act of gerilla curating. The previous month, he hung another cranially-themed work at the Musée Maillol. The offending piece was discovered a few hours later at closing time. The museum’s director, Olivier Lorquin was less-than thrilled by the stunt. He referred to the artist’s actions as “ignoble” and dismissed the proffered drawing as “bad, useless, a real piece of crap.”
Guérineau’s actions highlight the frustrations of contemporary artists who are unable to gain recognition for their work. Guérineau claims that he was not simply seeking attention, but offering a symbolic gesture towards the throng of under-appreciated, rarely exhibited artists who are ignored by France’s museums and galleries. He explains ”A museum like the Louvre has thousands of people coming through every week. They should be able to discover some of the message of contemporary French art – on society, on their lives, on pain, on poverty.”
Ironically, while Mr. Guérineau has indicated a desire to infuse France’s museums with fresh blood and new ideas, his recent stunt is essentially an imitation of a more complex prank pulled off in March of 2005 by Banksy. The English graffiti artist smuggled four of his own artworks into four of New York’s major museums. While Guérineau’s actions seem to stem from desperation and barely disguised megalomania, Banksy’s prank was an intelligent, well thought-out experiment. The pieces he proffered were designed to act in conversation with existing museum exhibits and to express his political oppinions about a variety of issues. The Wooster Collective website has an entertaining gallery of photographs documenting the artist’s adventure.
Banksy placed his Discount Soup Can at MoMA — a play on Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup series.
The walls of the Met were graced by his painting, You Have Beautiful Eyes, a portrait of a woman sporting a gas mask.
Soldier with Spraycan, depicted a colonial officer in front of anti-war graffiti holding a spray can. Banksy placed the work in the Brooklyn Museum.
Finally, the artist left his piece, Withus Oragainstus, a taxidermy beetle sporting missiles and a satellite dish for appendages. “It was just an outsider’s view of the modern American bug, bristling with listening devices and military hardware,” the artist said. The title is a pun on Bush’s 2001 message to coalition partners.
When asked in a 2005 interview why he felt compelled to infiltrate the art museums, he responded “I thought some of [the paintings] were quite good. That’s why I thought, you know, put them in a gallery. Otherwise, they would just sit at home and no one would see them.” Unlike Guérineau, Banksy, who calls himself and ‘art terrorist,’ did not feel the need to wax poetic about the profound social implications of his prank. It spoke for itself.