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It's tough to break into the art world — but it's easier if you have a key


It's tough to break into the art world, but it's easier if you have a key.


Earlier this year, an aspiring artist who worked as a technician at a museum in Munich, Germany, took matters into his own hands.

FADEL: Jo Lawson-Tancred reports on Europe for Artnet News.

JO LAWSON-TANCRED: He was an artist after hours. This was his day job. Harboring his private sort of aspirations to become an artist, he thought a shortcut to getting a bit of recognition might be to just directly put his own art on the wall.

FADEL: She says the 51-year-old technician drilled two holes in the wall and hung up his own painting in one of the museum's galleries.

MARTÍNEZ: It all happened at the prestigious Pinakothek der Moderne. The museum did not reveal the man's identity.

FADEL: Now, what he did wasn't exactly illegal.

LAWSON-TANCRED: So they can only get him on damage to public property, which is putting two holes in the wall with a drill. Of course, he's been fired, and he's banned from ever returning to the museum. I think they've chosen to take a quite restrained view on it, because they don't really want to make it a dramatic or glamorous thing.

MARTÍNEZ: But this isn't an isolated event. Another artist snuck her painting into an exhibit in another German city, Bonn.

LAWSON-TANCRED: And actually, the museum didn't notice until they dismantled the show.

FADEL: This one has a happier ending. The museum posted about the work online, and it ended up selling for a few thousand dollars. And then, of course, there's Banksy.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. The anonymous artist hung his own work at London's Tate Modern in 2004. And the police launched an investigation, which played right into his brand. And across the pond, the following year, Banksy did a similar thing under the watchful eye...

JOHN BARELLI: John Barelli.

FADEL: He led security at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for 30 years until 2001.

BARELLI: Banksy came in 2005 and put a small lady with a gas mask in our mezzanine gallery of the American wing. The guards detected it within - I'd say, within 30 minutes, and we took it down. And when it happened, he did that throughout the city to five different museums with different paintings.

MARTÍNEZ: In nearly 40 years on the job, Barelli says this all is pretty standard fare, but they never caught someone in the act. And he says the only real issue in the Munich museum incident was the damage on the wall. The art put on the Met's walls never really bothered him.

BARELLI: So somebody's putting something on the wall and nothing's damaged - no harm, no foul.

FADEL: One thing the Met did was have an annual event where employees could display their art and have it judged professionally, which gives the artists exposure. No harm, no foul.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Devan Schwartz
Devan Schwartz is an editor for NPR's Morning Edition. He is an experienced audio professional who, in addition to his work with NPR, has worked with such organizations as BBC, Slate, the New York Times, and various public radio stations.