The Art of Advertising

Last week an advertisement by AT&T caused something of a stir in the art world by blatantly using imagery associated with artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the artists who created The Gates (seen below) in Central Park, New York City, in 2005.

I saw the AT&T ad sometime over the weekend of May 22.  At the time I made some exclamation of how I couldn't believe they were ripping off Christo and Jeanne-Claude so blatantly and raising my internet rates, yet again.  Unfortunately both events are more than possible and not even uncommon anymore.

Other art critics were similarly annoyed to various degrees, airing their complaints over blogs and Twitter.  Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes wrote: "AT&T's borrowing of
theft from appropriation of
Christo-and-Jeanne-Claude-like imagery for a recent commercial has been
getting plenty of attention
of late." called it "shocking." The Huffington Post Twittered: "AT&T Rips Off "The Gates" By Christo
And Jeanne-Claude?"

Apparently since that weekend AT&T has appended a lovely bit of legalese to the end of the commercial, after Christo and his lawyer complained, according to the New York Post's "Page Six" blog.  Now this disclaimer appears at the end of the ad: "The artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have no direct or indirect affiliation or involvement with AT&T." Well, it's nice that they could mimic the artists work and not pay them.

AT&T isn't alone in this type of co-opting of art, I spotted Svedka ripping off Barbara Kruger last year, check the slideshow for the comparison.

Or has anyone else noticed that the ads for the new "A Team" movie, plastered all over the train stations here, bear a noticeable resemblance to Chuck Close's linocut reduction prints of Alex Katz (printed by Tandem Press in Madison, Wisconsin)?  With the open pores, scruffy facial hair, and unhappy expressions, I swear Liam Neeson is a dead ringer for Close's Katz.  That comparison is in the slideshow too, I wish there was a little better resolution but the software compresses the image file.

Tyler Green thinks the ad below for IBM looks a lot like a Julie Mehretu artwork in action.

Of course advertising mimicking art is not unusual, nor is it unusual that art mimics advertising, even though I am describing it as a "rip" it is all part of the circle of artistic influence, "rip-off" just gets the point across to everyone. After all, the avant-garde contains in it the possibility of kitsch and kitsch the possibility of the avant-garde; they are separated by degrees not by kind, it's how they participate in constructing culture that makes the difference.  As Clement Greenberg wrote in his hugely influential 1939 essay "The  Avant-Garde and Kitsch": "One and the same civilization produces simultaneously two such
different things s a poem by T. S. Eliot and a Tin Pan Alley song,
or a painting by Braque and a Saturday Evening Post cover.
All four are on the order of culture, and ostensibly, parts of
the same culture and products of the same society"

*Edited 5/28: Added Katz comparison.

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