Unlike everybody else, we dislike advertisements. We know. We’re taking a controversial position, but bear with us here.

We kind of think that economics is about as much of a science as witch doctoring. The world economy is short-circuiting right now because everyone went along with the sage advice of the financial gurus who thought up mortgage-backed securities and cutting bad debt up into traunches that could be sold as good debt . . . and on and on.
As we understand it (full disclosure: we don’t understand it) one of the cornerstones of capitalism is that people act rationally and in their own self-interest, and even if capitalism stratifies the classes and ruins the earth with a consumptive ethos, we can at least reap the rewards of the generative engine of the free market. Innovation and production of wealth, blah blah blah. OK, fine, don’t love it, but at the moment, we’re too much of a wimp to rage against this machine.

But here’s the problem. Advertisements. FUCKING LIE. THEY LIE SO HARD. So how are the discrete constituents (consumers) of a capitalist system supposed to make these rational decisions in their own self-interest if they’re bombarded with disingenuous images so often repeated that even the savviest of media consumers aren’t immune to their charms? And don’t give us that dreck arguing against Galbraith’s dependence effect, like this professor CSPU does: “needs, wants, tastes, and demand all originate within the consumer. A sign that says “Lemonade—5¢” cannot create a desire for the product if the consumer is not thirsty or does not like lemonade.”

stearnsWe’re not sure if this guy’s a moron or a liar but this is the Internet so we’re prepared to call him both. An ad can do exactly that fucking thing. It can create want. Absolutely it can. Are you telling us that fashion fetishists really just ‘need’ new clothes? No, they want the clothes that an adjacency in Vanity Fair has advertised. Are you seriously saying that Hammacker Schemmler’s products exist to fulfill needs that people already have prior to reading their catalogue on an airplane?

What we’re trying to argue here is that we really hate how the axiom of capitalism is that people act rationally, but then the organizations trying to sell us product don’t permit us to act rationally. They force us to act emotionally, out of lust or fear or greed. Even the way that TV ads are produced is designed to evoke emotional (as opposed to rational) response—audio in commercials is compressed in such a way that ads sound louder than TV programs. It’s harder to act “rationally” when you’re being sonically bombarded.
We know, we know, this argument is tired and it’s been argued more coherently with more intellectual rigor by everyone from Naomi Klein to Adbusters, but all we’re trying to say is that misleading advertisements—and that’s almost all of them—aren’t fair, and they undermine a tenet of the system they’re nominally trying to prop up. It’s weird and despicable, like a skinhead on a unicycle. What.

What we hate a lot less are ads that just level with you, and there’s a good’un by Louis Rhead in the Met’s Rockefeller Hall (remember? This blog concerns museums!) It says, in its entirety, “READ THE SUN.” That’s it. Just a straightforward command: no emotional manipulation, no lies-by-omission, no disingenuous viral marketing, no false dichotomies, no lazily pregnant double-entendre. With this ad, we know where we stand, and we’re able to decide whether or not to comply with the all-caps instruction.

The rest of the ads in the hall use the same selling-of-dreams tactic that modern commercials do. But the hell with it. Our screed above doesn’t account for the fact that we’re pushovers Art Nouveau prints. The ham-fisted directive of Edward Penfield’s 1896 “Ride a Stearns and be Content” is pretty fun.  We also like the trompe-l’Å“il tiles on E. Pickert’s February 9, 1895 poster for the  New York Times, the rich colors in Rhead’s lithograph for Le Journal de la Beauté, and the way the lady is frenching a peacock on the cover of Will H. Bradley’s woodcut cover for his typography magazine.

Not much more to say on these guys. As Penfield wrote, “A design that needs study is not a poster no matter how well it is executed.”
Sidenote: it’s the mark of a phenomenal collection when the hallways taking you from one gallery to the next are themselves packed with terrific art. A recent AP article on museum attendance spiking in this down economy states that, “At any given time, most museums display only 1 percent of [their] collections.” Let’s ramp that up, shall we? Per Andy’s bathroom post, we advocate for putting some of the works currently in storage in the Met’s bowels and annexes on the walls of the restroom.

The Rockefeller Hall

Highlights: All of them. Large-format Art Nouveau lithographs.

Memorable Quote: “READ THE SUN”

Next week: Self-Portraits in the Modern Mezzanine

The End of Capitalism; Damien Hirst is some Bullshit

The L Magazine, aka The Village Voice for people with small hands, has just released an arts-themed issue. A pull quote from the feature article reads, “Art as an exciting stock risk for a venture capitalist who cares little about the work itself will go away. This is a good thing.” We tend to agree.


We are students of history; we’re aware that Pope Julius II della Rovere was the great patron of Michelangelo and Raphael, and that the ecclesiast was single-handedly responsible for the commission of some of the great, enduring works of art of all time— work that even we can’t be cynical of. And we know that our beloved Met was, and is, financed by mega-capitalists. Don’t think we haven’t noticed just how many pieces in the permanent collection are gifts of John Pierpont Morgan.

sybilBut you know what? Fuck it, is what. We draw a distinction between crazy rich people funding the visual arts and I-banking speculators who see art as another commodity to make a killing on. We are made sick by the creeping influence of capital in art. In “art.” Frankly, the phrase “The Art Market” makes our little socialist stomachs churn.

Contrary to the claims in Adam Bonislaski’s article in The L, we don’t fetishize the mythical starving, suffering artist—we know that artists need to be compensated for their craft, and that when the economy booms, more artists are able to ply their trade. Great.murakami

But Damien Hirst and Murakami need an ass kicking. Conflating consumerism with high art was funny when Warhol did it, guys. But 50 years have passed, and Warhol’s been inducted into the canon. So that just makes you greedy, derivative profiteers. Hirst, for example, sold his diamond encrusted one-liner for $100 million, then sued a 16-year-old who was making bootleg collages of his work. Because, you know, it’s a self-conscious meta-criticism. damien-hirst-skull-1

“But at least we’re talking about art,” apologists will cry. “Isn’t that the point?” No, no it’s not. We’re also talking about AIG’s request for $165 million of government funds to give bonuses to the assholes that wrecked the economy. That doesn’t make it an art project. Shock does not confer value.

Pick up the latest edition of the L Magazine in those orange boxes before the college kids take em all. BTW this issue also has a handy Spring Arts Preview. We’re psyched about the upcoming Frank Lloyd Wright show at the Guggenheim.

Are we full of it? Almost certainly. Drop some knowledge in the comments below. Let us know just how cynical or naive we are about the state of The Art Market (pukes in mouth). Tell us what  idiots we are. Talk dirty to us.