Everyone’s talking about this exhibition at the MCA LA. While it certainly has an appeal to just about everyone; it makes the consumer feel good, the collector feel good, the young person feel good and the art-lover feel good I have to say that I’m not sure I’m comfortable with art that is so rooted the in something so comforting and comfortable.
Nevertheless, given the success of the show it’s without doubt a must-see…. read the NYT review below for the full story.– Joanne Molina, Senior Editor
KERI EVILSIZOR trained a covetous eye on the handbags pristinely
arrayed on white-lacquered shelves. She was not quite sure what to make
of the display, housed in a 1,000-square-foot island of commerce inside
the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. No matter. She was there to shop.
Ms. Evilsizor, who had come from San Francisco nominally to see an exhibition of paintings and sculpture by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, was delighted. Here was a luxury store — operated by Louis Vuitton, no less — in the midst of a high-tone exhibition space.
She was even able to snare a trophy, a handbag designed by Marc Jacobs,
the Vuitton creative director, with the company’s monogram — and one of
Mr. Murakami’s raucously colorful cartoon images. Sizing up the haute
Bohemian crowd milling about in T-shirts, premium jeans and pricey
knee-high boots, she noted, “There’s definitely a large percentage of
people who are here for the purses.”
Visitors were indeed
snapping up the limited-edition leather goods, embellished with Mr.
Murakami’s cartoon hands and Chibi Kinoko mushroom-shaped characters.
And most seemed to sense that they were witness to a marriage made in
The show, with its $960 handbags and $695
agendas for sale, created a flap even before its opening on Oct. 29.
Art-world purists charge that it has eroded the line between culture
and commerce. “It has turned the museum into a sort of upscale Macy’s,”
the art critic Dave Hickey chided in an interview.
Still, at a
time when artworks are purchased like luxury goods — the on-canvas
equivalent of a Lamborghini or Revillon sable-lined raincoat — the
shop-within-the-show serves as a rarefied marketing tool. It provides a
glossy platform for both merchant and artist seeking to extend his
brand, one that ideally confers a cachet that translates into galloping
The first deluxe boutique to be integrated in a formal
exhibition, the Murakami-Vuitton store is “a terrific example of not
just the artist embracing commercial success but proactively going
after it,” said Elizabeth Currid, the author of “The Warhol Economy:
How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City” (Princeton University
Press, 2007). In this kind of venture, everyone profits, Ms. Currid
said. “You are creating a new kind of product, one that expands the
economic horizons of all the parties involved.”
That venture has
also trained a spotlight on a trend that is picking up steam. True,
artists have aligned themselves with luxury brands since the 1930s at
least, when Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau
placed their surrealist stamp on fashions by Elsa Schiaparelli. But
such formerly rare and mostly unsung unions are now increasingly common
— and profitable. Small wonder, then, that artists of the stature of a Damien Hirst or Richard Prince are vying to lend their imprimatur to a range of designer goods.
“Artist products are the current thing,” said Jeffrey Deitch, the art dealer and a former associate of Andy Warhol,
the acknowledged master of artist self-branding. A generation ago, the
mating dance between culture and commerce was regarded as heresy, Mr.
Deitch acknowledged. But today, he added, such alliances are “just one
of the avenues available to the artist who wants to get his message to
Exhibit A: Mr. Murakami. Before he teamed up with
Vuitton five years ago, he was known primarily to art aficionados. That
collaboration was a marketing tour de force so spectacular that it
created a waiting list in the thousands for the artist-bags. Indeed, a
case could be made that it turned Mr. Murakami into a celebrity viewed
by his fans as the pudgy, goateed Heath Ledger of the art world.
where’s the rub? Mr. Murakami made his name, after all, by taking the
culture of branding as his primary subject. Tellingly, his show is
titled “© Murakami.”
And yet the installation — a shop that
lines the pockets of the artist and his corporate partner — would
appear to compromise the authority and curatorial role of the Museum of
Contemporary Art. Not so says Paul Schimmel, the museum’s chief
curator. He pointed out that the museum receives no rental fees or
profits from the store. To do so would place its nonprofit status at
Vuitton did not pay for the show; however, it did
underwrite a splashy opening-night party that attracted celebrities
like Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Pharrell Williams.
Schimmel further maintained that the boutique is integral to the
artist’s message. “One of the most radical aspects of Murakami’s work
is his willingness both to embrace and exploit the idea of his brand,
to mingle his identity with a corporate identity and play with that,”
he said. “He realized from the beginning that if you don’t address the
commercial aspect of the work, it’s somehow like the elephant in the
Such arguments have done their part to defuse potential
controversy. The museum, said Gail Andrews, director of the Birmingham
Museum of Art in Alabama and president of the Association of Art Museum
Directors, “has made the case that luxury goods are a part of
Murakami’s artistic expression. They are doing what contemporary
museums do, pushing the boundaries.”
To say nothing of luring
visitors into the tent. Indeed, the museum has been a major beneficiary
of the collaboration. “We are certain that it has brought audiences and
visibility to MOCA,” Mr. Schimmel said.
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