Eye of the Beholder

When you’ve been tagged by Banksy—the anonymous, subversive British graffiti artist—you don’t break out the scrub brushes and cleaning supplies. You count yourself lucky, because you’ve provided a canvas for one of the most influential artists working today. And you may have been handed a lot of money.

That’s what Las Vegas’ Light Group thought when one of their rather generic Los Angeles billboards was hit last week. The ad depicted a woman in a black bra and jeans tossing her tousled hair to-and-fro with mild abandon. The artist added an inebriated mouse bearing a remarkable resemblance to a certain Walt Disney character groping the woman’s breast with his left hand and holding a martini in his right, while a starstruck Minnie-like character looks on. It’s a definite improvement, if this non-art critic does say so himself.

The Light Group dug it, too. “We thought it was really cool,” says representative Beth Bartolini. “We think he’s an incredible artist.”

CBS Outdoor, the company that owns the billboard on Sunset Boulevard, did not dig it. Bartolini says she first got calls and pictures of the defaced sign at about noon Feb. 16. By 5 p.m., CBS had taken it down because the revised message did not meet company standards, according to a Feb. 17 story in the Los Angeles Times.

It certainly caused a row. The website TMZ has a video of the vinyl sign coming down and people fighting over it as it’s stashed in a truck. There’s a lot of speculation about the timing of the tag, most of it centering on the idea that it’s a guerilla marketing campaign for Banksy’s Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.

But all’s well that ends potentially profitably: Banksy’s work has fetched hundreds of thousand of dollars in the past, and the Light Group has the sign back in their possession, Bartolini says.

Banksy was not available for comment.