Art Department

Back to Contents of Issue: July 2000

A Convenient Mix of Art and Advertising

by Andrew Pothecary

It was Andy Warhol (who else?) who said something along the lines of: the business deal is one of the greatest art forms. And he certainly wasn't the first to exploit the connection between business and art. Sometimes the art almost is the business: think also of Damien Hirst knowingly painting what art buyers want to pay for, or, perhaps, Jeff Koons taking a postcard of, say, dogs and hiring someone to sculpt an exact replica of them. It can never be said that artists don't know a thing or two about business.

Clockwize from top left:Lawson, Family Mart, 7-Eleven, am/pm
(C)Masato Nakamura, courtesy of Shiraishi Contemporary Art Inc

Anyone reading this magazine will have realized that konbini are big business in Japan.We dedicated an entire issue to convenience store e-commerce. No surprise then that a Japanese artist -- - Masato Nakamura -- - has already taken the connection literally. Or is the relationship more complicated than that?

The attitude of his konbini and McDonald's work is not simply that of Warhol's Campbell's Soups. (Despite the centuries of art sponsorship before and the decade or more since, Warhol is still a touchstone for such art.) Walk among Nakamura's circle of linked McDonald's arches and the feeling is of -- - what? Is it left up to you entirely or does the artist have a prepared intention? Enter a darkened gallery room illuminated only by four neon-backed acrylic convenience store signs -- - no names, however, only the color-combination and layout tells you who's who -- - and the feeling is of a knowing participation. But is it just the "art" conscious who are laughing? After all, 7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart, AM-PM, and McDonald's all obviously recognize the impact of propagating their colors through art: they all sponsor the show.

This despite the fact that the exhibition earlier this year at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art featured a selection of turn-of-the-millennium artists-with-attitude and was called "Land/Mind/Body Scapes in the Age of Cold Burn" (hardly the warm family feeling that the convenience stores may be wanting). And despite the fact that Nakamura is featured alongside photographs of suicide locations from the suicide's final point of view, Takashi Honma's nightmarishly bland Tokyo Suburbia, and fat bodies suspended above their own incontinent mess.

Andy Warhol also took brands and made them household names beyond their function, and he's never been alone in appropriating them. But Campbell's never sponsored him. Perhaps the stores are wise to another Warhol homily: don't pay attention to what they say, just measure the publicity in column inches. Or in this case, in gallery wall space.

Art is rarely "pure," business rarely simple, advertising rarely measurable. Where you see the separation or conjunction -- - and the final comment -- - is partly left to you. Who said cynical? And about whom? Personally, I thought it was hilarious.

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