Banksy's This Is A Pipe

Year: 2011
Medium: Mixed Media
Dimensions: 69 x 80 x 29cm
Last Hammer: £293,871 (Christie’s Hong Kong, 2019)
Signed/Unsigned: Signed
Drawing inspiration from the work of René Magritte, This Is A Pipe by Banksy presents a metal spigot framed in a gilt frame. The words ‘this is a pipe’ appear underneath the object, playfully reconfiguring The Treachery Of Images (1929).This Is A Pipe © Banksy 2011
Joe Syer

Joe Syer, Co-Founder & Specialist[email protected]

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Never one to eschew dialogue with art history, Banksy proves himself a master of subversion in the 2011 mixed media piece This Is A Pipe, a work that plays with perception and reality in a way that is as intellectually challenging as it is visually arresting. Comprising a physical metal spigot ensconced in a lavish gilt frame and bearing the declaration "this is a pipe," the artwork is a direct nod to René Magritte’s seminal work, The Treachery of Images. Here, Banksy bridges the gap between subversive artists in the early 20th and 21st centuries.

This Is A Pipe: Meaning & Analysis

Through its imagery, this work delves into the complex interplay between language, representation and the physical world, relying on a visual language largely created by the Surrealists. The particular piece that Banksy parodies here, The Treachery Of Images from 1929, has become emblematic of the artistic movement. In creating Treachery, Magritte problematised the gap between the representation and the real world of objects, questioning the way that images deceive us into thinking that we are looking at exactly what they depict. While the power of Magritte’s painting consists in laying bare that what pretends to be authentic is in fact merely a representation, Banksy’s incorporation of an actual, physical object into the artwork makes the case even more intricate.

This Is A Pipe represents a conceptual puzzle, which questions the authenticity and the limits of artistic representation, engaging viewers in a philosophical inquiry into what constitutes the ‘real’. Through the juxtaposition of a real object against a subversion of Magritte’s linguistic claim, Banksy blurs the lines between object and representation, creating a space where the viewer must question their perceptions and what they have been taught constitutes high art. This technique draws attention to the often unquestioned belief in the objectivity of visual perception and language and the piece becomes a site of tension, where the physical presence of the pipe confronts the viewer’s preconceived notions about art and reality. The use of text in the artwork adds another layer of complexity, suggesting a dialogue or a contradiction between the object and its description, which invites the audience to reflect on how language shapes our understanding of the world around us.

Banksy’s approach in This Is A Pipe is reflective of his broader critique of society and the art world, challenging traditional views and encouraging a deeper engagement with the underlying contexts of what we see and believe. By leveraging the historical echo of Magritte’s work, Banksy enriches the dialogue about the essence of reality and the power of artistic representation, aligning himself with a long line of artists that have posed the same questions.

This Is A Pipe not only engages with Magritte's legacy but also aligns itself within a broader narrative that Banksy constructs—a narrative that questions and often subverts established artistic norms and values.”

Joe Syer
Joe Syer,Co-Founder & Specialist,MYArtbroker

Banksy and the Dialogue with Art Historical Canon

This work also exemplifies one of Banksy’s many unconventional dialogues with the movements and figures that shaped the history of art. His method of incorporating and responding to historical artworks is not isolated to his conversation with Magritte; it permeates his oeuvre, providing a critical commentary on art’s role in society. Banksy's artworks such as Show Me The Monet, Rembrandt, and Sunflowers From Petrol Station are prime examples of how he dialogues with art history, each in its unique way.

Show Me The Monet is a direct play on Claude Monet’s famous Bridge Over A Pond Of Water Lilies. Banksy’s rendition introduces discarded shopping carts and a traffic cone into the idyllic garden scene, a juxtaposition that critiques consumerism and environmental neglect within a framework that originally celebrated natural beauty and tranquillity. By doing so, Banksy prompts viewers to reflect on how far society has strayed from the serenity that Monet's work epitomises. Another example, Sunflowers From Petrol Station, painted in 2005, shifts the vibrancy of Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers into a narrative of decay by featuring a wilting bouquet, its petals sparse and drooping against a luminous yellow backdrop – starkly contrasting with Van Gogh’s depiction of blooming vitality. Finally, Rembrandt, created in 2009, pays homage to Rembrandt van Rijn, the master of introspective portraiture. Banksy’s version features the iconic Self Portrait At The Age Of 63, distinguished by his linen cap and red coat. However, Banksy adds a contemporary twist by overlaying the portrait with plastic wiggle eyes, a playful yet profound alteration that mocks the solemnity with which Rembrandt’s work is traditionally regarded in the art historical canon.

Each of these works, like This Is A Pipe, utilises direct visual and textual references to create a layered dialogue with historical art movements and figures. Banksy’s art continuously challenges viewers to reconsider the relationship between past and present, high culture and popular culture, and the commercial versus the conceptual in art. His integration of real-world objects and contemporary issues with historical references enables a fresh examination of what art can represent and how it resonates within today’s societal context.

This Is A Pipe: Exhibition History

Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Art in the Streets, 17 April - 8 August 2011

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