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This Is A Pipe, 2011


This Is A Pipe, 2011
Paint, vintage frame and reclaimed metal
69x80x29 cm (27 1/8 x 34 5/8 x 11 3/8 inches)
Signed and dated “Banksy 2011” on the reverse
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 29 March 2019
USD 474,528

Art in the Streets, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2011

Renegade street artist Banksy is infamous for his striking, satirical artworks, which often poke fun at social issues and the mainstream art establishment. This is a Pipe draws inspiration from an iconic work by Magritte. Yet instead of painting a tobacco pipe, Banksy has framed a metal spigot in a gilt frame, with the words “This is a pipe” scrawled underneath. The work, previously exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, is a humorous example of Banksy’s artistic wit and penchant for using art historical references and found objects in his work.
In 1929, René Magritte created a work that he entitled The Treachery of Images. The painting depicted a tobacco pipe, under which was written the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, French for “This is not a pipe.” Challenging the presumed relationship between visual representation, language, and objecthood, the iconic painting posed a conceptual challenge, reminding the viewer that there is in fact no pipe present despite our instinctual response otherwise.
Banksy’s version flips Magritte’s work on its head, as he has chosen to use an actual, physical pipe as his subject, writing underneath “This is a pipe” in English while emulating the schoolboy cursive of the original. The gilt frame around the protruding pipe and text completes the work, elevating the corroded metal and completing the visual reference to Magritte’s painting. Yet Banksy’s decision to leave the raw edges of the metal protruding outside the frame is a reminder of the appropriated nature of his work, and his origins as a street artist painting on existing surfaces. The act also subtly references the work of Marcel Duchamp and his practice of coopting found objects as ready-made art pieces.
Art In The Streets, MOCA, Los Angeles, 2011
This Is A Pipe was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles in 2011, as part of Art in the Streets, the first major museum survey of graffiti and street art held in the USA. Banksy’s prominent inclusion in this exhibition highlighted his status as one of the most well-recognized street artists in the world, infamous for his secret identity and frequent public stunts.
This is a Pipe, though simple in its conception and execution, exemplifies one of the best qualities of Banksy’s art: his ability to introduce shock, surprise, and humor into everyday life. With a simple act and a few objects, Banksy not only subverts a famous work of art but challenges our own expectations surrounding art and originality. This challenge – the question of what deserves to be lauded as art, definitions of ownership, and what is or is not permitted – is central to Banksy’s work, contributing to Banksy’s international appeal as artist, activist, and rebel.