Exiled Russian artist torches central bank branch in Paris

Russian artist Piotr Pavlensky's radical and often painful performances have won him international acclaim

Controversial Russian performance artist Piotr Pavlensky, who was granted asylum in France in May, was taken into custody early Monday after setting fire to the outside of a Banque de France branch in central Paris, police said.

Firefighters arrived the scene at around 4:00 am (0200 GMT) to put out two fires outside of the building in Bastille square, a spokesman said, adding that the incident was of "criminal origin".

Photos on social media show the 33-year-old dressed in black, standing in front of the shuttered front door flanked by fires burning outside two windows.

Pavlensky, a recipient of the Vaclav Havel award for creative dissent, was taken into custody along with his partner Oksana Shalygina for causing "damage by fire", police said.

Pavlensky once memorably nailed his scrotum to Red Square to denounce state power. In November 2015, he doused the doors of the FSB -- the successor to the Cold War-era KGB, or secret police -- in petrol and set them on fire.

On Monday, a Banque de France spokesman told AFP the bank's entrance was damaged but the security systems were not affected.

"The building is still secure," although the Bastille branch will remain closed until further notice, he added.

Pavlensky gained a reputation for challenging Russian restrictions on political freedoms in radical, often painful performances that have won international acclaim.

While best known for his 2013 Red Square performance entitled "Fixation", he also sewed his lips together to protest against the jailing of members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot.

He has also wrapped himself in barbed wire and chopped off part of his ear.

After the FSB stunt, Pavlensky was handed a fine of 500,000 rubles ($8,700, 7,400 euros) and released after being found guilty of damaging a cultural site.

Pavlensky spent a month last year in a notorious psychiatric hospital undergoing state-ordered tests of his sanity that found him sound of mind.