My, what a stunning painting! The stark green lettering over a plain white background forcefully expresses the artist's quest for meaning and direction in a confusing world. Truly a masterpiece. What do you mean, it's the "Emergency Exit" sign? My bad.
Often intended as a Take That
to contemporary art
, this comedic situation involves somebody mistakenly believing that a non-artistic item among works of art is itself a work of art.
A variant involves non-artistic settings, such as an old person at an archeological exhibition being mistaken for a mummy. The inversion involves a genuine work of art being mistaken for a mundane item.
Compare Accidental Art
. A person might invoke this trope deliberately to hide; see Nobody Here but Us Statues
- In a Capital One commercial, the Viking mascots use reward miles to visit a museum. Naturally, they are mistaken for an exhibit.
- One Subway commercial featured a man and a woman in a museum, marveling over the "simple yet majestic" art piece that consisted of a ladder leading up to a hatch in the ceiling, on which has been placed a Subway sandwich and accompanying drink. After much oohing-and-ahhing from the artsy-fartsy crowd, an air conditioning repairman climbs down the ladder, picks up the sandwich, and takes a huge bite from it. Then he climbs back up the ladder to the applause of the art fans, who are convinced it's a performance piece.
- A joke features a man going to an art exhibition, standing in front of a painting and loudly mocking its ugliness. He is told that the frame he's looking at is, in fact, a mirror.
- The Red Dwarf episode "Legion": Rimmer, pretending he knows about art to impress Legion, complements on one piece:
Rimmer: Now this three-dimensional sculpture in particular is quite exquisite. Its simplicity, its bold, stark lines ... pray, what do you call it?
Legion: The light switch.
Rimmer: The light switch?
Rimmer: I couldn't buy it off you then?
Legion: Not really. I need it to turn the lights on and off.
- The Doctor Who episode "City of Death": The Doctor and Romana leave the TARDIS at the Galerie Denise Rene. When they return, there are two people standing in front of it...
To me, one of the most curious things about this piece is its wonderful afunctionalism. She:
Yes, I see what you mean. Divorced from its function and seen purely as a piece of art, its structure of line and colour is curiously counterpointed by the redundant vestiges of its function. He:
And since it has no call to be here, the art lies in the fact that it is
here. (The Doctor, Romana, and Duggan run into the TARDIS, which dematerialises.) She:
Exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.
- And The Fires of Pompeii not only has the TARDIS mistaken for a modern art installation, but an enterprising street trader has sold it to a wealthy marble merchant, kicking off the Monster of the Week plot.
- Murphy Brown: Eldin (Murphy's live-in housepainter) gets a show at an art gallery. At the opening people come in to find a completely empty room. They discuss whether they themselves are the art or what, but then Eldin points out that he painted a mural on the ceiling.
- Designing Women has Julia Sugarbaker leave her purse, which has a curvy black-and-white pattern, on its side on a table in a museum of modern art, whereupon the art crowd descends to ooh and ahh over it. The curator then insists the purse IS Art and therefore museum property, to the frustration of Julia, who just wants it back.
- Parodied by The Chaser, who attempted to demonstrate that it was possible to dump all kinds of junk in an art gallery without people noticing: tree clippings ("Lord of the Plants"), an old computer, a broken vacuum cleaner (unsucessfully), an old mattress (unsuccessfully, though one woman spent some time admiring it) and two garbage bags ("Fun Dip").
- In one episode of Monk, the main character goes to an art gallery and mistakenly believes a display stand is an art piece. He isnít impressed by the actual art pieces, which arenít as smooth and uniform as the stand.
- On Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm's family takes a trip to the Burning Man festival. Hal sunbathing and cheerfully grilling outside his camper are taken by the hippies in attendance as a viciously witty performance piece commenting on emptiness of the American burgeoisie or some such pretentious nonsense, while Hal remains oblivious as to why so many people keep staring at him while he's vacationing.
- Inverted on an episode of Webster. A local artist makes a sculpture consisting of a bunch of aluminum cans welded together in a net. Webster finds the sculpture while looking for cans to recycle and gets it crushed. He and George end up trying to recreate the sculpture. The artist finds out and is perfectly okay with it. (The point of the sculpture was an environmental message.)
- In the Futurama episode "Mother's Day," the cast visits a wax museums of famous historical robots:
Fry: Hey, who's this guy?
Janitorbot: I'm the janitor. I'm trying to take a nap here.
Fry: I'm sorry, I-I thought you were made of wax.
Janitorbot: I am made of wax, what's it to you?
Fry: I mean I thought you were one of the wax robots.
Janitorbot: Is there some reason a robot made of wax can't take a nap standing up in the middle of a bunch of wax robots? Or does that confuse you?
[Fry backs away slowly.]
- An "illicit art mistaken for approved art" variant: Banksy has left his own reinterpretations of famous pieces in museums as though they were meant to be there. They often stay up for days or weeks before someone notices and takes them down.
- Often inverted: You can put a "This is an art project" sign on almost anything, and people will assume it's true.
- Workers Mistakenly Trash $50,000 Artwork.