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From Duchamp to Banksy: Street Art Continues 100-Year Movement

Update October 1: From Banksyny, "For the next month Banksy will be attempting to host an entire show on the streets of New York."


The week brings some Banksy buzz to Los Angeles after the UK street artist posted a silhouette stencil of an aerosol artist bent over during the apex of regurgitation -- spewing flowers. The image on the site also reads "BETTER OUT THAN IN" and "OCTOBER 2013."

Locally, promo signs reading "Banksy. October 2013" had some local media quickly be dispatched to the Arts District to find the truth.

In the street art installation, wherever it is, public space once again becomes part of the art, by being a found object in the tradition of collage. The tag "HOPE" gives the impression that it was the work of the artist, even if you don't know if it came before or after the Banksy stencil. The flowers are the focus, and can be defined as a "ready-made," an organic twist on Marcel Duchamp's treatment of everyday objects. The flowers and wall are reinterpreted as a soft shock piece by Banksy.

If Banksy does have an installation planned for Los Angeles in October, it will be the same month that marks the 50th anniversary of "By or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy," the first major U.S. retrospective of Duchamp's work at Pasadena Art Museum, which itself marked the 50th anniversary of Duchamp's American debut in 1913 at The Armory Show in New York City. The 1963 exhibition, organized by Walter Hopps, who worked closely with Duchamp for the exhibition, is considered by some art critics as the passing of a contemporary repurposed-pop-art torch.

It also offers the idea that Duchamp, with or without creating work within the Dada movement, is an extended godfather of street art.

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L.H.O.O.Q.The evidence is there. Duchamp is considered the creator of an aesthetic blueprint that influenced Andy Warhol and other pop-art figures, who themselves are considered the forerunners of today's street artists. If you wanted to find a long thread of playful subversive thinking seen in street art, consider Duchamp.

Street art often responds to media influences over a general population -- a practice that also goes back to early artists, who created visual mandates that maneuvered emotion and self-identify, as European cities became industrialization traps, economic failures, or were burdened with a lingering threat of war with chemical weaponry.

But the true weapon of mass deconstruction, questioning the idea of what is art, is not just Duchamp's infamous "Fountain" from 1917. It's "L.H.O.O.Q.," the "ready-made" postcard of Mona Lisa with facial hair, from 1919. This work opened up an aesthetic spirit that street artists are duplicating today.

If the image of Mona Lisa represents protected iconography, "L.H.O.O.Q" is the invasion of heinous graffito, and art seen in the streets, walls, and media spaces of Los Angeles are continuing the rebellion of Duchamp.

As a billboard is the symbol of the city's value as a media center, a Mona Lisa of communication, unauthorized tags become the contemptuous moustache. Even Bansky made a statement against media when, in February 2011, he visited the Sunset Strip to leave his point of view.

Bansky billboard on Sunset I Wooster Collective

Or it can be a specific comment on consumerism, as seen with Zev's liquidation of corporate marks.

Zevs I Courtesy of FatCap.com

There is also a playful irony, which Duchamp also emphasized with his art. 2wenty's warning of addiction to Facebook took on online media as a target, which has added irony since social networking has increased street art's visibility.

Facebook I Photo: Julie Faith/Flickr

Plastic Jesus makes new consumer items -- built-in ready-mades -- with his fake labels for products at Best Buy. The retail signage modified the object as "Another gadget you don't really need."


Such artistic attitude against authority, hierarchical, and convention prevalent in Los Angeles street art, whether indigenous or visiting, basks in anti-anything-ism coolness. It relies on finding a target -- a dominant culture or ideology -- from which tension can be shaped. The current interpretation of the movements of Duchamp and Dada, as a call-to-action against authority and the influence of mass media, is the chance to find more value in smarter street art.

Yet, it pales in comparison to the urgency of cultural upheaval, when you consider the early art movements that were created as a response to crisis. These works were not based on dwindling of middle class, oftentimes a theme in today's anarchy art, but on urgent messages from artists, like Duchamp, who were dejected about the difficult reality of impending war.

Now that scolding authority has become the new art ritual, and Banksy is coming to Los Angeles to join his comrades in paint and stencil, it keeps Los Angeles as an active street art lab. Unless, of course, the hint of an L.A. visit is Banksy's way to tamper with the head space of the urban bourgeois.


About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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