Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How luxury commercialized art

Louis Vuitton decided to cooperate with a contemporary artist called Olafur Eliasson.

In 381 stores, the artwork called Eye See You was installed according to his specifications. In this essay, the author is talking about how cultural products are being made to serve commercial interests using this partnership as an example.

Art used to link with the divine. The author wrote, “art has traditionally been called into the service of human social interaction with the divine or incomprehensible.

But art has become mixed with our commercial capitalist culture, stifling artists creative subjectivity. As the author said “Subjectivity is linked to authorship, and when authorship becomes a brand name with little to no emotional resonance, as it does here, the work feels empty no matter how spectacular its form.”

Likewise Eliasson’s work has been reduced to a mere advertising tool for Louis Vuitton.

In fact, the very form of the artwork makes it impossible to engage with it.

The artwork consists of a circular arrangement of lights with the appearance of a human eye. But the lights are too bright to look at directly and the location, in the shop window of a busy New York street, causes further problems. It is awkward to stop to look at the work in detail because of the constant stream of traffic and passersby. Furthermore, under certain lighting the shop window merely reflects the viewers images back on themselves.

As a result, it is impossible for the viewers to connect with the artwork and thereby impossible for the viewers to make any meaningful critical judgments.

The author explains the path that art has taken since the rise of avant-garde in the nineteenth century. Before the avant-garde, art depicted images of the divine.

But avant-garde artists believed that the beauty of art could arise from the artists unique subjectivity. Art no longer served a socio-political purpose, but rather was produced in the name of art for arts’ sake. The withdrawal of high art from its social role led to a separation, as described by Clement Greenburg, into avant-garde (high art) and kitsch, which involved the production of commercialized images that borrowed from the idea of art. However, the author argues, what we called art nowadays has become commercialized to the extent that collectors will pay millions for work by Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin before it has even been made. In other words, artists have turned themselves into brand names. Therefore it is not surprising to see an artist like Eliasson collaborating with a fashion brand like Louis Vuitton.

But this also reveals an attempt by Louise Viutton to raise the status of their fashion goods to that of high art. It is worth noting that they formed this alliance with the artist Eliasson at a time when they were shifting their methods of production from hand-made to an assembly-line, calling into question the high prices charged for their luxury goods.

Louis Vuitton is using Eliasson’s art as an advertisement to sell handbags, but the author sees this as dangerous for art. Art is a much higher form than mass-culture, such as advertisements, and so people have an expectation to be inspired by art that gives art a so-called “aura”. Work such as Eliasson’s exploits this expectation. The aura is not contained within the work, rather the viewer, believing it to be art, imposes an aura upon it themselves.

The author writes that “beauty, self-criticism, careful looking, contemplation, inspiration in oneself and others, and a feeling of social connection are all human qualities fostered by art”. However, if we accept commercial art, there is no longer any guarantee that this value would be found in any art object. She argues that we must not confuse mass-culture with art, because we risk losing art itself.

By Yelim hong

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