In the present work, Banksy not only offers the subversion of one of the most famous paintings of the Twentieth Century, but ultimately hints towards the ability of art to manipulate and distort truth just as much as to reveal it. Presenting the water pipe in a gold frame, Banksy not only humorously aligns himself with the way paintings from Magritte’s era were traditionally elevated by means of display but further adds to the contrast of low and high culture. The water pipe as a classic objet trouvé recalls Marcel Duchamp’s introduction of readymades into the discourse of so-called high art to break down the bourgeois definition of what constitutes an artwork. Similarly, Banksy’s practice as a street artist echoes Duchamp’s claims that anything can be perceived as art if presented in the right context. Banksy’s striking intervention into the public sphere and the radical subversion of our perception of what art can be has been cemented in the seminal exhibition Art in the Streets, the first major museum show on the history of street art at The Museum of Contemporary Art is Los Angeles, where the present work was prominently included.
Celebrated as a leading figure in the street art movement, Banksy has kept his identity undisclosed to the public for decades, creating a mystified persona that almost exclusively communicates via its artistic output. This is a Pipe is a masterful example of the artist’s ability to merge a seemingly obvious found object with art historical wit to create a multi-layered work of highly subversive quality.
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