Friday, October 10, 2008

The money or the bag

Vanessa Beecroft of ‘the gaze’ and anorexia fame had a new idea for her group photos of naked women. Why not get them to lie down in shapes spelling out the letters of Louis Vuitton? ("I absolutely never had the feeling of compromising myself while I made this alphabet for Louis Vuitton"). It didn’t work out. Anthon Beeke, who had been in the nudie alphabet business before her, got a court order for Vanessa to halt and desist her Vuitton project. It was the second time Vuitton had been on the wrong end of a artist copyright infrigement.

How do serious artists get into these situations? For instance, you might think a committed conceptual artist like John Armleder would be able to side-step this world. Not a bit of it. In Tokyo Mid-Town’s Puma store, we came across his range of ,Puma-branded silver luggage that would have given even Dolce & Gabbana pause. Of course it was cunningly disguised as an art edition, but you could tell the players were defending shaky ground. For each bag sold the label insisted we remember that $100 would be donated to the Serpentine Gallery in London. The bags also defended themselves against charges of blunt instrument commercialism by being packed with examples of young-people-art.

In the gallery context Armleder has been a brilliant provocateur, skillfully questioning the authenticity of art. His bag range, on the other hand, can’t help being just what it is, 1000 units of high-end bling.