I will admit it up front, I am not an art critic. That said, I recently heard about two “art installations” that struck me as particularly unusual. The April 6, 2009 podcast edition of CBC’s Dispatches included a feature on the production of an advertising campaign for a perfume called “Greed”. For the television advertisement, Roman Polanski directed A-list actresses Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams as rivals, locked in fierce combat over a bottle of the irresistible essence.
The punch line is that “Greed” does not exist. Conceptual artist Francesco Vezzoli dreamt up the non-existent product and corresponding advertising campaign to explore the simultaneously attractive and repulsive elements of consumerism. The end result was an art installation at the Gagosian Gallery in Rome. Reactions were mixed. Some people seemed to feel that the timing was poor in light of the current economic troubles. Others didn’t get the joke at all. Vezzoli does not proclaim to offer a message, but instead claims to hold up a mirror to society. He states “we are not wasting money, we are entertaining ourselves”.
The other so-called installation was featured on a late-night re-broadcast from the Deutsche Welle network (yes, insomnia again). Daimler, the automobile manufacturer, recently allowed the Rimini Protokoll theatre group to turn its annual shareholders’ meeting into a twelve hour staged production in Berlin. The audience was made up of shareholders or voters by proxy, most of whom wouldn’t have known an IPO from a dividend but nevertheless wanted to see the show. The viewers were riveted as Daimler’s executives addressed their lagging fortunes
I will leave it to others with more refined tastes to judge whether or not either of these installations actually qualify as art, but both struck me as somewhat bizarre. Vezzoli may offer a commentary on the unrelenting greed that has brought the global economy to its knees, but is he really saying anything new about this excess? Daimler’s shareholders’ meeting was opened up to a whole new audience, but to what end? And what does it say that many actual shareholders were willing to hand their voting rights over to disinterested third parties?
Art can exist simply to be pleasing aesthetically, or it can act as a lens to focus our attention on aspects of the human experience that deserve contemplation. I am all for art as social commentary; however, I believe there needs to be a next step – do I come away with an increased awareness, or am I called to take some form of action – big or small. Without this next step, the interaction between art and the connoisseur seems incomplete…