Take "How to cook Docomodake?" Big room. Empty space. Artworks scattered around. Silence. Looks like art.
However something is slightly askew... The floor for a start. It is squeaky clean polished white.
And outside, attractive young greeters stand, welcoming you in.
I'm wary of clean, wary of welcoming.
How to cook Docomodake has the slickness of high fashion. In fact, it is high fashion: Docomodake is a style icon created by Japanese cell phone manufacturer NTT.
The Docomodake exhibition is just the latest example of the American trend of mixing high art and high commerce. The NTT corporation claims cool for being involved with the arts; young emerging artists get a show in New York. It appears to be a win-win tale.
Corporate sponsorship of art events is nothing new. What is new here is the table that dominates the exhibition, packed with stuffed animals, mushroom toys and figures, mushroom berets and Docomodake books available for purchase. Where commercial sponsorship used to be a label on the wall, it is now a blatant merchandising opportunity. The message is: "We got you in here with the lure of art, now buy some of our hip branding merchandise."
How can art claim to be autonomous, critical or even contemplative when it is packaged with stuffed animals for sale?
Followup: The NYTimes just ran an article on Takashi Murakami, another Japanese artist, and his collaboration with Luis Vuitton at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. As with the Docomodake exhibition, Murakami combines art with a shop selling branded products, this time placed within a museum.
The article quotes Mr. Deitch (of Deitch Projects), justifying alliances between corporations and artists as "just one of the avenues available to the artist who wants to get his message to the public."
In the article, museum curator Paul Schimmel notes that the museum takes no rental fees or profits from the store (to do so would be to place its nonprofit status at risk). He argues that:
“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 realized from the beginning that if you don’t address the commercial aspect of the work, it’s somehow like the elephant in the room.”
The article also quotes Yves Carcelle, the president of Louis Vuitton:
“If you look at the world of art people interested in contemporary art, they are usually interested in luxury. The bridge between the two worlds is more and more obvious.”If we accept the views presented by Carcell, Schimmel and Deitch, this packaging of contemporary art with luxury branding is obvious and good for all. How long can this last, I wonder?