First published on 11 Jan 2012. Updated on 17 Jan 2012.
Over the summer, Melbourne’s Art Series Hotels, the Blackman, the Olsen and the Cullen, have been terrorised by thieves, liars, phonies and other suspicious characters. Guests have feigned heart attacks, planted listening devices at the reception desk (or vaulted over it) and generally caused a ruckus since December.
Why all the fuss?
In late 2011, Melbourne’s Art Series extended an invitation to would-be art thieves to book a night’s stay in one of their hotels and steal an artwork from off their walls.
Not just any artwork either, but ‘No Ball Games’, an artwork by that famously anonymous street artist and rapscallion Banksy worth $15,000.
Banksy, we think, would approve.
It’s no wonder that all sorts of brow-knitted deviants and crooks have been wandering the hotel floors since: hanging around the lobbies scoping the place out, dressing up as tradies or making crank calls to reception. (Reports suggest that instances of Oceans 11 jokes on hotel premises increased by 500% in this time.)
Just four days after the campaign kicked off, ‘No Ball Games’ was successfully pilfered from the Blackman Hotel by Maura Tuohy, aided by her accomplice Megan Aney. The Art Series picks up the story:
“Maura Tuohy checked into the hotel on Saturday night pretending to be from an Art Series Hotel agency. She claimed she worked with various members of the agency team and told hotel staff that she was asked to drive the painting to another hotel.
“Highly suspicious staff asked for a number to phone in order to verify her story. Tuohy provided the number of her accomplice, Megan Aney, who verified the story. After a dozen more questions she then walked the artwork right out of the hotel with the help of the hotel staff, put it in her car, and returned 15 minutes later to brag about her cunning and guile.”
Time Out has it on good authority that the duped staffer was soundly flogged.
The Art Series had, of course, prepared for the possibility that a crafty individual would eventually make off with the artwork at some point. Wasting no time, a second Banksy – a print of the famous ‘Pulp Fiction’ work worth $4000 – was hung on the wall, and the games began again.
On 21 December and on behalf of the crooks and crims at Time Out Sydney, I flew to Melbourne with my accomplice Laura Parker with the express intention of making off with the second Banksy.
It wasn’t ideal balaclava weather to be honest.
We checked in at the Cullen Hotel on Commercial Road in Prahran in the early afternoon with one night’s luggage, a number of garbage bags and several lengths of rope on us. We immediately went about scouring every floor, including the laundry rooms and fire stairs. We wheedled what we could out of the cleaners and seriously considered nabbing one of their trolleys “for later”.
After some time searching, we were left no choice but to conclude that the Banksy was in another Art Series Hotel. We hotfooted it to the Blackman Hotel on St Kilda Road to try our luck there.
And there it was. Banksy’s ‘Pulp Fiction’, up on the wall behind reception, not particularly blending in with the darkly whimsical Blackman paintings around it. There were two people in uniform behind the desk and a luggage cart blocking the way.
Minds racing, we left the hotel to consider our options and nut out a plan, all the while playing silly buggers on Twitter so as not to be deemed a credible threat.
Here’s what we came up with.
We would announce ourselves as being from Time Out. (Pretty sure that part of the plan was in the bag.) Taking care to drop the names of chief Art Series personnel, we’d conduct on-camera interviews with whoever was behind the reception desk about the Steal Banksy campaign for video coverage in Time Out. So far so good. (Never mind the fact Time Out has hardly ever done ‘video coverage’.) With our trusty video camera still pointed at them, we’d (very casually, very coolly) suggest ‘staging’ a theft. One of us would film the other taking the Banksy off the wall and running out of the hotel with it.
But here’s the thing (wait for it): that person wouldn’t come back with the Banksy.
No, you probably wouldn’t call it the perfect plan – it even occurred to us as being a particularly dishonest brand of dishonesty – but it was the only plan we had.
By the time we’d gathered the courage to march (creep?) back into the Blackman later that evening, however, the Banksy wasn’t there. They’d pulled a swifty. It had been moved. The fellow behind the desk was clearly unsettled by our questions and played dumb.
Firmer of resolve if suddenly sapped of confidence, we leapt into a taxi and went straight to the OIsen Hotel on Chapel Street in South Yarra.
And there it was. In clear sight, again – provided you’d thought of looking up.
The Banksy was hanging ten feet above the ground, above the threshold to the Olsen lobby, in clear view of the three uniformed staffers at reception.
We were mostly out of ideas and inspiration by this stage and, besides, where could we source a trampoline at this hour? And so, we had to grudgingly admit defeat.
We left Melbourne Banksyless.
But the Art Series towels we pinched from the Blackman are tops.
After all the trouble we went to, it is something of a consolation that, so far, no one has made off with the artwork. At the time of writing, Tuesday 11 January, ‘Pulp Fiction’ is still hanging on one of the Art Series Hotel walls. The artwork will come down this weekend, on Sunday 15 January. There’s still time.
Hopefully, you would-be art thieves can learn from our story. We wish you luck.
Probably our first mistake was broadcasting our intentions and plans on Twitter. Here’s a transcript of what we thoughtlessly tweeted that day: an account of our plans, preparations and, ultimately, our dismal failure.
9.00am, Wed 21 Dec
@lauralovescake: Heading to Melbourne to try to @stealbanksy. Have packed my copy of Stealing Art For Dummies. Meeting my fixer on the ground. Wish me luck.
@lauralovescake: Just spotted George Clooney outside The Olsen. He's here to give us some Ocean's Eleven tips on #stealbanksy.
@DarrynKing: Melbourne to do list: catch a show, review a cafe or two, pinch a $4000 Banksy.
@lauralovescake: So this is the Bansky, right? #stealbanksy pic.twitter.com/FC9RcMs6
@DarrynKing: Melbourne shopping list: balaclava, circular glass cutter, Pierce Brosnan costume. #stealbanksy
@lauralovescake: Found these with which to bribe hotel staff. #stealbanksy pic.twitter.com/JMR367k5
@DarrynKing: Fake business cards sorted. #stealbanksy pic.twitter.com/FNLCb8N9
@DarrynKing: #stealbanksy pic.twitter.com/TuIX0FO4
@DarrynKing: Any reformed art thieves in Melbourne interested in participating in One Last Heist? #stealbanksy
@lauralovescake: The Cullen is trying to entice its guests to stay inside their rooms instead of planning art heists. #stealbanksy pic.twitter.com/ne9rMrOK
@DarrynKing: Recent Google searches: 'magic supplies melbourne'; 'costume stores melbourne'; 'invisibility cloak real?' 'jedi mind tricks'. #stealbanksy
@DarrynKing: Digging a tunnel from our hotel room. Good thing we packed this large poster of Raquel Welch. #stealbanksy
@lauralovescake: Heist attempt: 67% successful. Slight glitch: Banksy out of physical reach. Unfair? Just a bit. #stealbanksy
@DarrynKing: Dammit. Cover blown. It's almost as if @ArtSeriesHotels and @stealbanksy knew we were planning something somehow? #stealbanksy