Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Contemporary Art + the Gap?

In an interesting twist on the whole artist-designed-tee phenomenon, a certain fashion chain has partnered with the Whitney Museum of Art in NY to create a series of limited-edition t-shirts designed by highly regarded contemporary artists including Sarah Sze, Jeff Koons, Kiki Smith, and a few socially-conscious ones like Glenn Ligon, Barbara Kruger, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and (gasp) my former grad school advisor, Kerry James Marshall. On the one hand one could see this as a way of expanding artistic ideas and practices to the masses -- making contemporary art more accessible and maybe even provoking dialogue at the mall! On the other hand, very few of these shirts operate as anything other than cool-looking hipster gear -- Cai Guo Qiang's wound/stain/explosion shirt stands out as an exception -- and I wonder what percentage of those buying these limited-edition shirts are those already well-versed in the art. I've got nothing against artist-designed consumer items, especially when they're as lovely as some of these are. I'm just a bit disappointed that so few of these artists took the opportunity to push the envelope in terms of how such a thing might operate in the world.

1 comment:

annan said...

I agree. These shirts really don't operate as anything other than "cool-looking hipster gear." I was excited when I heard about the campaign, but when I actually saw the shirts I was disappointed. I think there are people who are well-versed in art that would go check them out, but I don't feel as if many of them would buy any of the t-shirts. Others who are not well versed in art would obviously just buy them because they look cool, and I bet those people are more abundant than the former that I mentioned. Who knows.