Oleg Zabluda's blog
Monday, October 22, 2018
Pierre Brassau, Monkey Artist
Pierre Brassau, Monkey Artist
In February 1964, four paintings by a previously unknown avant-garde French artist named Pierre Brassau were exhibited at an art show in Göteborg, Sweden.
[...] Pierre Brassau [...] was a four-year-old West African chimpanzee named Peter from Sweden's Boras zoo.

Art critics, journalists, and students, glasses of wine in hand, silently contemplated Brassau's creations. Their praise was almost unanimous. Rolf Anderberg of the morning Posten later wrote that most of the works at the show were "ponderous," but not those of Brassau:

"Pierre Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer."

One lone critic panned Brassau's work, declaring, "Only an ape could have done this." As it turned out, this critic was correct. Pierre Brassau was, in fact, an ape. Specifically, he was a four-year-old West African chimpanzee named Peter from Sweden's Boras zoo.

Pierre Brassau was the invention of Åke "Dacke" Axelsson, a journalist at the Göteborgs-Tidningen, one of Goteborg's daily papers. He came up with the idea of exhibiting the work of a monkey in an art show as a way of putting critics to the test — would they be able to tell the difference between modern art and monkey art?

Axelsson persuaded Peter's 17-year-old keeper to give the chimpanzee a brush and oil paints. Initially Peter preferred eating the paint to placing it on a canvas. He especially liked the tart flavor of the cobalt blue. But eventually he started smearing paint on the canvases provided to him. Because of his taste preferences, cobalt blue featured heavily in his work.

When painting, Peter always had a bunch of bananas close at hand. The rate at which he consumed them matched his level of creativity. During periods of great inspiration, he would eat as many as 9 bananas in ten minutes.

After Peter had created a number of paintings, Axelsson chose what he considered to be the four best and arranged to have them exhibited in an art show at the Christina Gallery.

After Axelsson revealed the hoax, Rolf Anderberg (the critic who had praised the work) insisted that Pierre's work was "still the best painting in the exhibition."


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