YouTubers Claim to Have Heisted a Banksy Painting from the CAC — and Now the Art Piece is Traveling Cross-Country

In a recent YouTube video, a group of friends explained how they "stole" a painting that was allegedly made by street artist Banksy and placed in the museum earlier this year

Jul 12, 2019 at 5:04 pm
click to enlarge "Sitting on Pride Rock holding Banksy as if he was Simba," reads the photo Instagram caption. - Courtesy of @banksybanana
Courtesy of @banksybanana
"Sitting on Pride Rock holding Banksy as if he was Simba," reads the photo Instagram caption.

In a Youtube video posted by Reckless Ben — aka Ben Schneider — on June 29, a group of 20-something vloggers claim that they took an alleged Banksy painting from downtown’s Contemporary Arts Center.

“You see that painting my friend is holding? Yeah, that’s an original Banksy painting,” Scheider says in the 13-minute-long video’s intro, which has amassed just over 2,000 views. “And this is the story of how we stole a Banksy painting.”

And now that crew is taking the painting on their cross-country travels and sharing their adventures via the Instagram account @banksysbanana. (Schneider's personal account, @recklessbenschneider, has over 18,000 followers on the platform.)

Yes, it’s all very Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

But first, let’s backtrack. The painting in question depicts a simple half-peeled banana backdropped by brown paint on canvas. In January, a local artist — who operated pseudonymously as “Frizk”— came forward claiming that the anonymous, worldwide-known street artist known as Banksy direct-messaged him on Instagram asking him to hang the painting at the CAC during its Mamma Andersson: Memory Banks exhibition. He said he did so with the help of two University of Cincinnati students

At the time, Joshua Mattie, CAC’s communications director, said in a statement that the painting was only in place for minutes before it was discovered and taken down. He said people who claimed to be "vlogging" distracted a security guard by asking them for a tour of the exhibition. 

For proof of the directive, Frizk videoed themselves scrolling through the direct messages from Banksy. Of course, as is the nature with many art pieces claiming ties to Banksy, the creator of the painting is not verified.

"The CAC has a long history of supporting and exhibiting the work of artists aligned with street art from the auspicious Beautiful Losers exhibition in 2004 to major exhibitions by JR, Swoon and Shepard Fairey,” Mattie said in the statement. “It wouldn’t be surprising if Banksy wanted to participate in this legacy. However, since the identity of Banksy has never been officially acknowledged, it would be difficult to confirm if he was actually involved or visited the museum. Since the alleged artist has not yet come to claim their painting, we can’t speak to their identity. The painting contains the initials 'JK.' "

Since then, the piece had been secured in CAC’s lost and found awaiting its owner. That is until Schneider hatched a plan. 

“It started out as a joke, but we wanted to see if we could convince the museum to give it to us since nothing was currently being done with it,” the video’s description reads. In the video, one of Schneider's friends, Michael Fortner, enters the CAC, talks with security and records their conversation via spy glasses. In summary, they faked an eBay auction to retrieve the painting. But they only obtained it after two unsuccessful attempts at providing ample verification of the “purchase.” 

Originally, that fake-out came in the form of a Photoshopped eBay receipt for $15,000. That didn't work. After a few other maneuvers — including faked emails and phone calls pretending to be Banksy —  they set up their own eBay auction and bought the half-peeled wonder from themselves for $5 in order to get a verifiable receipt.

“I’m mind-blown,” Fortner told me of getting the painting. “I’m absolutely mind-blown. You can see in the video when we get it, I was shook.” 

CAC's officials verified to WLWT in a statement that “the object in question was relinquished to a verifiable owner according to our lost and found procedure.” 

When I asked Fortner — a UC student who met Schneider while attending high school in Fairfield, Ohio — if anyone in their group had anything to do with the banana painting being hung up at the CAC last December, he said no; they first heard about the painting through news coverage. 

“That’s what everyone was asking, like ‘Yo, did you put this up?’ No,” Fortner said. “No, I didn’t.” 

It is unclear if the group will face any legal repercussions. 

Fortner says they hope to make a few more videos with the painting and continue chronicling their adventures via Instagram — so far, those travels include Utah, train-hopping in the desert, attending Las Vegas' EDC festival, trekking the Colorado Rocky Mountains and more. What's up next? You can expect to see the crew traveling in California, Texas and New Orleans in the coming months.