Art and advertising

Posted by Ian on Apr 15, 2009 in blog | No Comments

Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s photograph as used on U2‘s album ‘No Line on the Horizon’
Art has always had a tight relationship with commerce, economics and the market place in general. Back when the Church controlled the purse strings, artists readily explored themes and stories dictated by the highest ecclesiastical bidder, and art has always been readily at the service of states from medieval kingdoms through to 20th century European dictatorships.
Recently though, contemporary artists have been selling rights for their works directly to advertising firms and other media conglomerates. Unshocking yet unfortunate was the sale of one of Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s Seascapes for use on U2‘s latest studio album ‘No Line on the Horizon‘. Unshocking because it follows in the tradition of musicians utilizing contemporary art work for their album art such as with Ornette Coleman’s ‘Free Jazz’ which featured a painting by abstract painter Jackson Pollack. Unfortunate since U2’s use of Sugimoto’s image was base and literal for its form rather than an artistic synergy as with Coleman and Pollack. Sugimoto’s image depicts a horizon line, but the series of seascapes are more of a meditation on the genesis of life and the mythological relationships between water and air. U2’s appropriation of the imagery is unfortunately (or ironically) linear in its intent. Coleman’s synergy with Pollack captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s. Coleman’s deconstruction of musical form in ‘free jazz’ or ‘fire music’ paralleled the meditative deconstruction of artistic form in Pollack’s abstract splatter paintings. Perhaps though, in this sense, U2’s use of Sugimoto is equally in the zeitgeist of commercially driver 21st century consumer culture – sound bites, linear communication and limited subtext.
Nicky Veasey imagery utilised in a current Lucozade advert
Another recent example is Lucozade‘s licensing of Nick Veasey’s x-ray photographs. Veasey’s portfolio is is an arresting array of high definition x-ray images taken using industrial x-ray equipment such as what is used in airport security screening. Veasey’s work is something of a sensation. The ‘wow’ factor of large-scale x-rays is certainly central to his success, but at a deeper level, many of his works communicate a fragile intimacy with the oft-forgotten internal worlds that make the world what it is. Lucozade’s use of the artist’s imagery is, again, linear though – using the artists image as a canvas or template upon which to place their product, brand and marketing construct ‘energy inside’.
I would not argue that these artists selling their work for profit is inappropriate, but critically, I think it does point to a trend in our current commerce-centred society where indie bands such as Architecture in Helsinki feature in a Sprint advert, Prototypes feature in BMW adverts and Iggy Pop features in a Swiftcover car insurance adverts. Perhaps it suggests that the capitalistic marketing engine has run out of good ideas, or it may echo the ambiguous zeitgeist and aesthetic relativism of contemporary art, punk and rock and roll. Perhaps Iggy Pop captured this best in a declaration at the opening of one of his recent concerts – ‘Do whatever the f*** you want!’

Sprint & Architecture in Helsinki’s ‘Souvenirs’ from Fingers Crossed (2003)

BMW & Prototypes’ ‘Je ne te connais pas’ from Prototypes (2006)

Swiftcover & Iggy Pop
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