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BANKSY

‘Banksy in Paris’ rumour takes internet by storm

French art-lovers and internet users came to life on Monday, after the intriguing appearance of two murals and a website, both bearing the hallmarks of none other than Banksy. Could the enigmatic British street artist be in Paris?

‘Banksy in Paris’ rumour takes internet by storm
“I like wine and baguette, does that mean I’m French?” A rumour that British artist Banksy had started a residence in Paris spread like wildfire on Monday. Photo: Banksy-Paris.com

“Is Banksy in Paris?” was the question on the lips of many in France and beyond, on Monday, after the emergence of a new website and two murals in the French capital, both strongly resembling the work of the anonymous Brit.

The website Banksy-Paris.com went online on Sunday, and appears to indicate that Banksy has begun a month-long residency and project in the French capital, with a mural posted on December 1st, and another on December 2nd.

The layout of the site bears a striking resemblance to that of BanksyNY.com, set up to herald the secretive and controversial British artist’s much publicized month-long stay in New York in October.

The first mural (below), at Passage des Postes in the city’s 5th arrondissement, bears the tag line “I like wine and baguette, does that mean I’m French?”

The second, meanwhile, is on Rue Piémontési in the 18th arrondissement.

At 10.30 on Monday morning, French photographer David Chapelle broke the story on Twitter, posting the url of the website, along with the message “Someone just told me that Banksy is in Paris for a new exhibition.”

Within hours, the rumour had spread like wildfire among French and international art-enthusiasts and gossip-lovers alike, with some even accusing Chapelle himself of being behind a fake.

Brussels-based IT expert @Amaury noticed certain anomalies in the registration of the Banksy-Paris website, as well as discrepancies between it and its very similar BanksyNY counterpart.

On Monday afternoon, cultural magazine Les Inrocks claimed to have heard from Banksy’s agent that the website, murals, and project were all phoneys.

“He doesn’t have a project for the short-to-medium future,” the agent told InRocks.

Furthermore, PestControl – a clearing house used to authenticate works of art – also claimed the murals were fakes, after an inquiry initiated by news aggregator Storyful.

However, Chapelle subsequently claimed he had received an email from someone claiming to be Banksy’s agent.

“You’ve obviously seen that an agent of Banksy’s has made a denial. The problem is, I’m also Banksy’s agent and we’ve had no contact from InRocks,” said the email.

“It’s up to you to decide which agent is right! Anyway, I’m sending you this photo, a clue for tomorrow perhaps?”

Either way, despite firm denials and claims of forgery, the rumour continued to spread among excited Twitter users by Monday evening.

Whether unwilling to accept the whole thing is a clever publicity stunt by an ingenious fraudster, or perhaps hoping that this is the most elaborate project yet from the mysterious British street artist, for many, the question remains: “So, is Banksy in Paris?”

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ART

IN DEPTH: How police reclaimed a stolen Bataclan Banksy in Italy

A stolen cutter, CCTV footage, phone taps, loose-tongued suspects... this is how an artwork by famed street artist Banksy painted on the door of the Bataclan club in Paris was discovered in Italy 18 months after being stolen.

IN DEPTH: How police reclaimed a stolen Bataclan Banksy in Italy
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) and French ambassador to Italy Christian Masset take part in a handover ceremony of the piece of art attributed to street artist Banksy, that was stolen at th

At 4:00 am on January 26, 2019, three men wearing hoodies and masks take a cutting tool to the metal door of the Bataclan.

It is not just any old door, but the emergency exit of the famous Parisian music venue where 90 people were murdered by Islamic State gunmen on November 13, 2015.

The stencilled white image is of a “sad young girl” in homage to the victims of the Bataclan attack.

It is all over in just a few minutes: the thieves load the door into the back of the Citroen van, whose number plate has been made illegible, according to captured CCTV footage.

“It was an important investigation” for the officers, some of whom had worked on the Bataclan attack, a source close to the case tells AFP.

By “honing in” on phones located in the vicinity of the Bataclan at the time and then along the route taken by the getaway van, tracked using surveillance cameras, police are able to identify and tap the lines.

A year later, police detain three men suspected of breaking into a DIY shop in the Isere department in southeastern France.

A cutting tool is among the stolen objects and one of the suspects boasts of having been involved in a break-in in Paris.

With a link now established between the suspects and the theft of Banksy's “the sad young girl”, police use wire-taps and surveillance to track down the receivers of the stolen artwork.

According to the investigators' findings, the artwork is taken to first to Isere, then to the south of France and from there on to Italy.

'Like trying to re-sell the Mona Lisa' 

In Italy, the painting is initially hidden in a hotel in Tortoreto, in the central region of Abruzzo. But when the hotel undergoes renovation work, it is relocated to an abandoned farm in Sant'Omero, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) away.

The hotel's owner, an acquaintance of one of the men suspected of receiving stolen goods, Mehdi Meftah, says he did not know what the bulky package contained.

Police decide to detain the whole gang, but the arrests are hampered by the coronavirus lockdown, the source tells AFP. In a joint operation with Italian police, the investigators seize “the sad young girl” in Abruzzo on June 10.

The attendant publicity forces police to speed up the arrests and a total of nine people are detained in France in the following days.

Two are charged with robbery in an organised gang and another four with receiving stolen goods, including Mehdi Meftah.

 

The 39-year-old, with his bouncer-like looks and tattoos, founded the luxury T-shirt brand “BL1.D”, which has an 18-carat gold ingot sewn into the neckline. He is suspected of ordering the theft.

“His accomplices say he wanted to keep the door for one of his houses,” says the source close to the investigation, acknowledging that trying to re-sell such an artwork would be “very difficult”.

“It would be like trying to re-sell the Mona Lisa,” his lawyer, Yves Sauvayre, tells the weekly newspaper, Journal du dimanche, denying his client had ordered the theft.

“He was presented with a fait accompli. He agreed to take the door in order accepted to help out old acquaintances.

He didn't pay a penny,” the lawyer says. At the moment, the artwork, handed back to France by the Italian authorities, is under seal and is being guarded by Paris police.

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