The Marketing is the Message
Luis Gispert, History shall absolve me (2008). C-print. Courtesy of the artist and Fredric Snitzer Gallery.
MOCA North Miami recently announced the closure of its Wynwood satellite exhibition space, MOCA at the Goldman Warehouse. In memorandum we thought it fitting to compose a piece around the importance of marketing to Miami arts, taking as our point of departure the show at MOCA at the Goldman Warehouse, Luis Gispert by Luis Gispert.
Recent artistic developments in Miami, home of the greatest (European) art fair in America, suggest that the emergence of an international contemporary art industry has also influenced the priorities of its artists. Back in the ‘60’s, when saturation advertising of consumer goods emerged on TV, Warhol got everybody worked up over the presentation of commercial products like soup cans and Brillo boxes as art. Of course he was just responding to what was going on around him. So is it really any wonder then that with all the marketing ploys employed today: political advertising, infomercials, products featured in films, ‘news’ and radio shows that are systematically marketing ideologies, and of course, lifestyles – that the contemporary art industry has successfully marketed art with endless headline grabbing art fairs and auction house manipulations as an accessory to high class living: Everybody knows ‘modern’ art is bafflingly expensive, so it wound up symbolizing not just wealth, but sophistication.
Installation view of “Luis Gispert.” On view at MOCA at Goldman Warehouse April 11 – June 27, 2009. Photo: Steven Brooke.
Luis Gispert’s recent show at the MOCA Goldman Warehouse, with its bus stop-size photos of tricked out cars and military vehicle cockpits, glitz and bling-encrusted ‘ghetto blasters’, and videos of robotic cheerleaders aren’t just about hip-hop or become-da-man-join-the-army military ads or high school and popular culture. Rather they evoke the way these ‘cool’ cultures are used to market music, clothes, films, cars and becoming rocket-grenade fodder.
Gispert’s work above all seems to chronicle the aesthetic pre-eminence of cultural marketing: it’s heavy handed scale and detail and the way the works demand consideration as compelling physical objects makes them seem rightfully expensive. And the way they at once tempt us to feel superior about summing up somebody else’s way of life, and to join in the imaginary fun of it, seems to connect to the self loathing and gleeful narcissism that Warhol’s work can still generate.
Luis Gispert . C-print. Courtesy of the artist and Fredric Snitzer Gallery.
A bunch of art fairs, TV shows and glossy magazines later, and contemporary art has been established as an ultra status symbol and consumer object; but how does it’s former role as a practice that led socio-political, philosophical and aesthetic discourse blend with it s new role as banner of social status?
We suppose that would be a new kind of aesthetic ambivalence; after all a status symbol can still be subversive, though it would have to be a more challenging kind than what we’ve been used to. Jeff Koons comes to mind. His career seems to be in the able hands of an auction house, and we have to assume that Koons means to ridicule everybody except the auction house and it’s patrons – they’re in on the joke or laughing their way to the bank anyway.
Luis Gispert, Untitled (Car Girls), 2001. C-print. 40″ x 60″. Private Collection.
Consistent references to High School, Hip-Hop and urban culture seem a bit odd as subject matter for the rarefied world of contemporary art, but what works is the way one alternative culture’s accessories are presented to another (in this case the culture of Contemporary Art) and one market-run subculture winds up holding another up for scrutiny. In his Goldman Warehouse exhibition, Gispert also recalls Koons’ evolution from the more ponderous and cerebral submerged basketballs and encased vacuum cleaners (perhaps no less transcendent than Gispert’s early ‘ascending-into-heaven’ cheerleaders) to his triumphant glorification of kitschy gas station giveaways and life-sized ceramic corn, which are not so different from the sublime ‘object-hood’ of Gispert’s gilt bronze blingblasters. The breath-taking technical perfection and scale of these prints and objects (same for Koons’ works) is a reminder of the care and money spent on lifestyle advertising too. (Another lesson here: bigger isn’t just better, it’s also much more expensive.)
Gispert’s films, the one showing massive machine stamping out big, loud repetitive products (of some sort or other), and the more personal one about a sensitive child blending in to mainstream culture, seem a fierce reminder that mass culture, even when presented as ‘alternative’ culture, doesn’t just seduce; as in High School, it can break down to defining measures of social statuses and acceptance or rejection. So the theme of cultural marketing and the acceptance or status levels that mass produced cultural emblems measure, whether it’s about a car or an art object, seems to be central one here.
That this cultural marketing might be a theme of Contemporary Art isn’t surprising. A recent list of 200 “Top’ Collectors’ from some Art News complete with addresses reads like some kind of Social Register. We know that they all live in some expensive enclave and that they have several residences so what would publishing their addresses have to do with the collecting of art?
This subject isn’t really covered without mention of Damien Hirst, at once the world’s richest, most influential artist (according to Artforum) who created the self-proclaimed most expensive work of contemporary art; his platinum, diamond encrusted skull, and eventually cornered his own market by eliminating the middleman and sending new work directly to an auction house. Generally however, artists need money – from collectors, from investors, from foundations – to execute competitive (big) art works.
Miami artist Bert Rodriguez exhibited hokey-looking publicity banners of commercial sponsors (Advertizing Works (2008) at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Miami) and created a ‘foundation’ complete with t-shirts and donation baskets to raise funds for an ongoing project most recently exhibited in Convention, the last exhibition at MOCA North Miami. Interestingly, Rodriguez has also made work that sensationalized himself; like a store mannequin mockery of Michelangelo’s David with Rodriguez’ face molded in plastic; a ‘glory hole’ with his dick sticking out (Two Heads Are Better Than One (2007) in Confluence at Fredric Snitzer Gallery) and being buried up to his neck so that his head stuck out of the ground (What A Tree Feels Like (2009) at Snitzer-Arregui Projects in Watermill, NY and most recently as Bass Museum, Miami, for his exhibition IN YOUR OWN IMAGE: The Best of Bert Rodriguez-Greatest Hits Vol. 1.)
But possibly the most publicity-based event of all to cast a shadow over Miami art was the recent casting call for artists to try out for a reality TV style art competition on Bravo produced by the same company who brought us ‘Top Chef’ and ‘Project Runway’. Amazingly, one of the shows PR people was known for stating that they hoped the show’s notoriety would rival the prestige of the Turner Prize given annually by the staid Tate Gallery in London. Does this not seem like a rather fantastic claim or is the power of TV and mass marketing really equal to all the time-honored scholarly devotion in the name of the Tate? Perhaps the marketers and what they affect as popular with the masses really do rule or perhaps they just live in a bubble bigger than the one encompassing the art (market) world?
When (if) the art (market) world comes back (economically) it doesn’t seem likely it could be a bigger, badder version of what we just experienced. At least not right now. But that is after all what happened last time (after the crash of the late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s) and it s important to remember that all of this can, like so many other things worth discussing, turn circular: Does contemporary collector culture, with it’s interest in sensational quasi-profound ‘products’ create an elitist aura around the art they collect (and above all the high and highly-publicized prices they pay for it)? and/or is this preferable to an art market world that is hashed out on the TV or Internet the way music is now? Or does the media-fication of art as a symbol/substitute for money actually popularize and democratize it right out of its diamond-studded ivory tower? And (biggest question) how will the dissemination of visual/performative culture on the Internet (much of it admittedly hopelessly ‘low-brow’) dovetail with the more sanctimonious, money-based high-end stuff?
The answer would appear to be that there’s room for all of the above and that high and low-brow, and how and how much those who want to invest in it pay for it, will exist in the eye (and pocketbook) of the beholder. So while fans of Romero Britto and those of Damien Hirst call each other “too commercial” there is, at the very least an abundance of “art” to look at, discuss and perhaps for some people to buy.
MOCA at The Goldman Warehouse via an artnet article which likens Wynwood’s boom to SOHO.
This post was contributed by David Rohn.