ART SPEAKS: Brand Synergy v. Art Controversy

“The Guggenheim Museum in New York is an upside-down Tower of Babel.  The architect didn’t want to reach for the sky; instead, he wanted all artists who enter there to become acquainted with hell. Abandon hope, all ye who come to show your work here.  You forget what you were trying to express, you disappear into the vortex, and, if like me, you arrive bereft of ideas, you have no option but to pray.”   Maurizio Cattelan. 

The arresting nature and out front assault in this commentary started our thought process:  Why are artists being asked to show in these hallowed institutions yet at the same time, denying that they are part of the system itself, by rejecting the notion of an artistic institution? We don’t get it, because these are the people with whom an artist is being compensated; to create, ignoble, celebrate, shock, ignore, enrage or insult.  Its part of the DNA of artistic controversy: Bite the hand that feeds you.

We just pose the question. Of course, please weigh in.

Marketing Quiz: How can art, with controversial subjects and personalities, be successfully linked to luxury brands?  Can a luxury brand bring together an artistic platform that is more then decorative, more than a mere expression of their “DNA” and become something artistically important?  Are the institutions signing on to these type of programs just becoming commercial vessels for marketing agendas? With budgets and government support almost gone in the US, private companies have discovered that the “Cultural Institution” is a perfect platform for their commercial agendas; with this new trend, a certain amount of institutional neutrality goes out the window.  This may point to something dangerous in the future.

Many artists have been sponsored by luxury brands; some are heroic, noble partnerships which can bring a brand to a higher level by sharing something unique or historic with the public. LVMH has done this very successfully and presents their brand as “museum” quality. Their LOUIS VUITTON history and craftsmanship show was well attended and considered very successful. Hermes or Tods have brought the heritage of their brand into the mix, sharing their money with cultural institutions and then providing a platform that is a cross between a culture experience and MTV Video.  This sort of branding mixology has generally worked well, though in a recent campaign with Tods and La Scala Opera we were asked to connect the meaning between a loafer, a Soprano and a group of dancers who resembled the Tod’s “rubber rivet” in a film production that was released on U-Tube.  They stretched our imaginations a bit on that one, I think.

The race to make a luxury brand more relavent, less about excess, and more socially responsible certainly has a good intention, but at what price?  How does a luxury brand curate the artists who are in step with they wish to convey, yet at the same time be somewhat objective in their support for artists who may be “outside” the typical decorative box.  The price might also be that as citizens, we are being treated to museum experiences that are less about art and more about commerce.  Nevertheless, the point of bringing a luxury brand into the realm of a positive social contribution has real marketing power.  The private sector needs the public sector; its just the terms of this relationship we need to be watchful of.  We’re all for taking a luxury brand to the people; its part of the democratization of the luxury industry and a result of the social media revolution.

As citizens, we are  going to be asked more and more, to take the money away from our cultural institutions.  This is what makes them vulnerable to commercial interests and less likely to embrace the controversial which puts us all, at risk.

The Editor