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What “Dumb Starbucks” Means for Artists in Los Angeles


One of our favorite art shows of 2013 was Patrick Martinez' one-day popup installation "Break Bread". Martinez' subtle humor and subversive yet artfully obscure parody of typical neon signs were installed in a functioning  El Tapatio supermarket. The contextual placement was perfect, as we noted at the time:

Designed to blend in with the store’s existing displays and yet stand out due to the ironic messaging or juxtaposition with the banal surrealism of everyday life,  the installations were noticed and commented on by some bemused shoppers, and photographed by art fans who trickled in during the day and arrived in larger numbers at night.

We also said we hoped other artists would take note of the success of the installation and be inspired to create something equally interesting and unique. Cut to the scenes this weekend in Los Feliz, when parties unknown opened up "Dumb Starbucks", a parody of a Starbucks store with the word "dumb" placed in front of Starbucks in every possible location. Lines were down the block and were reported to be between 2 and 3 hours long, and the venue ran out of cups on the first day.

While the parody isn't particularly inspired or thought-provoking, and may turn out to be viral marketing for some sort of movie or product, one point was emphatically made-- people in Los Angeles are hungry, or perhaps we should say thirsty, for even vaguely interesting and participatory public art. The fact that something so "dumb" could bring out Angeleños in large numbers should be a challenge to the city's artists and gallerists to create more installations, happenings, parodies, and even challenging work that provokes as much as it inspires.

Part of the reason why this site chronicles the city's murals, graffiti, and other public art is that it helps both define and engage this city in a way that galleries, museums, and other indoor spaces have often failed to do. The success of "Dumb Starbucks" has shown that even a purposefully stupid idea, when done with conviction (and, it should be noted, the relatively large sums of money it must have taken to create this project) can capture the city's attention. Even if this later turns out to be even dumber than it seems, that point has been made.

Update 1: Reader Reserve Result points to artist Marc Horowitz as the creator of "Dumb Starbucks".

Update2: The "owner" of "Dumb Starbucks" is Nathan Fielder from the hilarious Comedy Central show, Nathan For You.

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