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The use of the brand in contemporary art

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Art in brands

The artist as brand name

Andy Warhol, Absolut - brands and art

Just as artists have investigated and even exploited the mechanisms of branding, commerce increasingly looks to art for ways to reinforce brand identities.

The relationship is not a new one, but seemed to gather momentum in the mid-1980s, a period when contemporary art was enjoying renewed attention and 'lifestyle' advertising was also achieving new levels of sophistication.

Clothing labels such as Calvin Klein initiated major campaigns featuring the kind of sumptuous art photography previously reserved largely for fashion magazines. Sporting a logo but otherwise devoid of text, these advertisements aligned brand firmly with image alone.

In a separate development, in 1985 Absolut vodka initiated a long collaboration with contemporary artists.

Beginning with Andy Warhol, the campaign went on to showcase the work of dozens of artists; a perfect example of the immense power of art to add value to a brand.


Damien Hirst

The fact that Warhol was chosen to inaugurate the Absolut series does, of course, make perfect sense. The man who had given new meaning to soup cans was an obvious candidate for his take on a vodka bottle.

Moreover, Warhol was - and remains - the ultimate artist brand, an instantly recognizable household name.

Today, many artists enjoy similar status, and commerce is keener than ever to access their promotional power.

The fashion and luxury item sectors are particularly fond of such collaborations - an obvious partnership given that blue-chip contemporary art is now regarded as both a status symbol and luxury in its own right.

Blurring the line between art and industry even further, high-profile artists such as Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince all utilize methods of mass production ranging from 'assistant' workers - usually employed to create the art - to large-scale factory environments geared towards optimizing output.


Takashi Murakami / Louis Vuitton

'Alma' fabric design / print edition

Takashi Murakami for Louis Vuitton - commerce and art

The ongoing collaboration between the Japanese artist and luxury luggage label Louis Vuitton has proved highly successful, with Murakami's editioned handbags one of the company's best selling lines. The artist has also released limited edition prints of his co-branded fabric designs.

Murakami himself seems to view the relationship as a logical extension of his practice, claiming that his art is "more about creating goods and selling them than about exhibitions."

This fact was thrown into stark relief by recent retrospectives in which, at the artist's request, functioning Louis Vuitton stores were installed within the exhibition space.

While many condemned their inclusion as little more than a cynical marketing ploy, others saw them as legitimate additions to an accurate survey of Murakami's work.


Vanessa Beecroft / Louis Vuitton

Concept Alphabet, 2005

Vanessa Beecroft for Louis Vuitton - commerce and art

The Louis Vuitton flagship store in Paris includes permanent installations by artists such as James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson, as well as a top floor, 400-square-metre 'space for cultural and artistic expression'.

Its inaugural exhibition in 2005 featured Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft's specially commissioned photographic series, her trademark nudes depicting the individual letters of 'Louis Vuitton', as well as a version of the company's logo.

Beecroft also staged VBLV, an opening night performance in which models were arranged on shelves among Louis Vuitton products.


Tracey Emin / Longchamps

International Woman, 2004

Tracey Emin - commerce and art

In 2004 British artist Tracey Emin was commissioned to design a range of women's bags for luggage company Longchamps.

Consisting of a suitcase, handbag and several smaller bags, each piece featured characteristic elements of the artist's work such as appliqué and felt lettering. The suitcase, produced in an edition of 200, was accompanied with a hand-made, personally inscribed rosette.

At the time, Emin stated that her principal interest in the collaboration was the opportunity it offered "...for people to own something by me who normally wouldn't be able to afford to buy my work."

Nevertheless, she later claimed that she was "gullible" to believe this and that the project was "in actual fact ... a massive PR drive by Longchamp."


Chanel / various artists

Mobile Art, 2007

Chanel - commerce and art

Fashion label Chanel launched its ambitious traveling art project in 2007.

Comprising works by twenty artists in a futuristic gallery by starchitect Zaha Hadid, the multi million-dollar structure was to be erected in seven different cities, starting in Hong Kong and ending in Paris in 2010.

The international roster of artists including Daniel Buren, Subodh Gupta and Nobuyoshi Araki were asked to interpret the company's 'iconic' 2.55 quilted bag.

"The cost is not important. Chanel is about the dream," said Bruno Pavlovsky, director of Chanel's fashion division. "The project is more about building the Chanel image..."

While Chanel claim that the artists were given complete creative freedom, participants such as Sylvie Fleury (above, left) and Wim Delvoye are best known for generally ironic work with brand; their part in "building the Chanel image" might, therefore, be viewed with scepticism. Even more ironic is the fact that, with the onset of global recession in 2009, the tour was at least temporarily abandoned. Dreams, it seems, have their price after all.


Montblanc / various artists

Art Bags

Montblanc art bags - branding and art

Artists including Sam Taylor-Wood, Gary Hume and David LaChapelle were commissioned to design the 3-meter-high 'art bags' which have been exhibited internationally in locations including the Champs Elysees in Paris and Rockerfeller Center, New York. Each artist was asked to feature the Montblanc logo - a white star - in their work.

More recently, Montblanc commissioned works by top Chinese contemporary artists Fang Lijun, Qin Yufen, Zhu Jinshi, Wang Yin and Wang Guangyi, all of whom were also asked to creatively interpret the star emblem.

The company's statement at the time was disarmingly frank: "Montblanc is proud to collect these five art works by Chinese artists... since China is one of the most important countries economically in the international luxury market."

The works form part of the 'Montblanc Cutting Edge Art Collection', 75 pieces by international artists exhibited in the company's headquarters in Hamburg, Germany.

Branding in contemporary art > start

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