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Selling Out?: Six Surprising Artists Who Posed for Product Advertisements

The simple life of the starving artist is much more than a Romantic literary and painterly trope – for many artists, measly living is reality. With the fame they garner now it’s hard to imagine that modern figures like Andy Warhol or Salvador Dalí would have needed to supplement to their artistic incomes. But, we’ve found the advertisements that prove these side ventures.

Salvador Dalí for Old Angus scotch whisky, 1951.

Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí who once declared, “I myself am Surrealism,” made another bold statement in 1951: that Old Angus brand scotch whisky is “really tops.” Dalí lends his image and endorsement to the liquor, however it wasn’t the first time he had delved into the world of advertising. The artist had worked as an illustrator in the 1940s and ran his own print publication, Dalí News, around the same time.

This color magazine ad ran in American publications when the artist was living in Spain but writing articles about modern art theory for prominent United States titles like Vogue and Herald American. He had a long-running relationship with Vogue, designing several Surrealist covers for the fashion magazine.

Marcel Broodthaers for van Laack, 1971.

Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers gained fame for his conceptual artistic stagings critiquing the art world bureaucracy of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In a particular example from 1968, the artist creates a mock American modern art museum with himself as director of the department of eagles.

Just a few years later while living in Berlin, Germany, he agrees to pose as another figure, this one farther from the artistic world. In this banal German advertisement for men’s shirts, the Belgian artist becomes the model, in a starched, patterned dress shirt.

But, the caption beneath Broodthaers’ image contains a hint of his wit. Translated, it reads: “The Director of the Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles, refused to wear the van Laack monocle.”

Left: Andy Warhol for Pioneer, 1975; Right: Andy Warhol for Sony Beta Tapes, 1981.

Also working the 1960s and 1970s, Andy Warhol’s artwork is heavily influenced by the commercial advertising he encountered as every day, and by his background as an illustrator. From repeating soup cans or Coca-Cola bottles, his art took the popular image and inundated its viewer.

However, a few times Warhol did in fact lend his own image to a commercial advertisement. Above are two ads for audio and visual recording products. Considering the artist’s obsession with consumerism, there is surely a subversive message behind his endorsements.

Helen Frankenthaler for Rolex, 1990.

Quite the opposite of a subversive message, however, is found in this advertisement for Rolex watches. Artist Helen Frankenthaler gives a poetic endorsement of the luxury wrist wares, surprisingly in the same year – 1990 – that she was given a solo retrospective exhibition of her Color Field paintings at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The ad ran in Art & Antiques magazine, possibly alongside a review of her show!

Ed Ruscha (left) and son, Eddie Ruscha (right), for Gap, 2002. Image via Ad Forum.

An artist known for creating advertisements becomes an advertisement himself in the above image. For Gap clothing, Pop Art graphic designer Ed Ruscha models with his son Eddie Ruscha in the baggy styles of the early millennium. It is 2002, after all.

The American retail brand has a history of working with celebrities for their advertising campaigns but Ruscha Senior seems an interesting choice. Rather than a well-known face, he has a famous name – one that he passed on to his son, too – and was known for re-creating and creating logos like this one:

Trademark #5, Ed Ruscha, 1962. Image via Tate Museum.

Fast-forward to even more recent times and another modern artist is lending her image to product. In 2011, Cindy Sherman launched a line of M.A.C. cosmetics and posed for the campaign wearing her consumer goods.

Sherman is known for her photography and styling work – for transforming herself into physical versions of female tropes. Here, she subverts the typical glamor of a makeup advertisement, even including an image of herself as a clown in her new line: a true take on the sexist phrase “clown makeup,” when an outside viewer believes a woman has painted too much product on her face.

Images via thefineartblog. Photographs by Cindy Sherman.

The visual link between art and advertising has inspired interesting explorations across media. There modern artists’ deviations into the creation of advertisements or the endorsements of consumer products may have been fiscally motivated; however, those who partook were often of the avant-garde variety. Perhaps, these ads could be seen as another kind of cultural commentary?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

The Los Angeles Times questioned Helen Frankenthaler’s career because of her Rolex advertisement. Their critiques and praises, here: articles.latimes.com/1990-02-08/entertainment/ca-641_1_frankenthaler-retrospective

Want to know more about these artists? Read these pages on The Art Story: Salvador DalíAndy WarholHelen FrankenthalerCindy Sherman

How a NYC Department Store Launched the Art Careers of Warhol and Friends

Around the winter holidays, families, fashionistas, and ordinary Joes alike flock to the impressively-decorated department store windows on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Lush fabrics and mechanized displays delight viewers, and lure them inside to shop.

From 1929 to 1980, Bonwit Teller was one of those dazzling wintertime stops, a high style ladies’ retailer on Fifth Avenue.

But, Bonwit Teller’s window displays were much more than glitter and women’s wear. In 1929, the store hired their first artist as window display designer: the eccentric Salvador Dalí. And a fascinating history of creative collaborations was born.

Salvador Dali in Bonwit Teller window display, 1939. Image via Europa Star.

1939: Salvador Dalí

Surrealist Salvador Dali, who once declared “I myself am surrealism” designed two themed windows for the store in 1939 – one representing Day and the other Night.

In the Day window, Narcissus is personified. Three wax hands holding mirrors reached out of a bathtub lined with black lambskin and filled with water. A mannequin entered the tub in a scant outfit of green feathers. For the Night window, the feet of a poster bed are replaced by buffalo legs and the canopy is topped by its pigeon-eating head. A wax mannequin sat nearby on a bed of coals.

Neither was the most appealing to 5th Avenue shoppers and soon the store censored Dalí’s “crazed” display, replacing it with regular store mannequins in suits. In a rage, the artist jumped into the window display and attempted to pull his bathtub from the floor. It slipped. Both artist and tub crashed through the front window!

Jasper Johns’ Flag on Orange Field behind a Bonwit Teller mannequin, 1957.

1955: Jasper Johns & Robert Rauschenberg

Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were already artists when they began working as freelance window dressers at Bonwit Teller in 1955; however, they were still fairly unknown in the mainstream art world. Using the pseudonym “Matson Jones,” the collaborative pair exhibited their modern artworks behind fashionable mannequins regularly through the 1950s.

Jasper Johns Blue Ceiling, Matson Jones, 1955. Image via Poster Museum.

In this year, Johns and Rauschenberg collaborated on a few rare works, including a cyanotype photography print Jasper Johns Blue Ceiling in 1955. Images of these cyanotypes, which Rauschenberg began creating with his wife four years earlier, had been reprinted in the April 1951 issue of Life magazine. At Bonwit Teller, the collaborative Matson Jones photography creations were given new life in display as commercial backdrop.

But, many of the artworks shown at Bonwit Teller would follow an opposite pattern: later becoming the artists’ most famous in galleries. Johns’ first flag painting White Flag on Orange Field was hung in the shop’s window in 1957. And Rauschenberg displayed an altered Untitled (Red Combine Painting) there in 1957.

James Rosenquist with his Brunette Billboard, Vertical, 1964. Image by Dennis Hopper, via The Genealogy of Style.

1959: James Rosenquist

Before he “joined” Pop art, James Rosenquist was a commercial artist. He was employed as a billboard painter for a number of years and in 1959, he also began designing display windows for Bonwit Teller. Robert Rauschenberg helped get him the gig.

Rosenquist describes the experience in his 2009 memoir, Painting Below Zero: “By the late 1950s I’d begun to lead a double life. In the daytime I painted billboards and designed display windows for Bonwit Teller, Tiffany, and Bloomingdale’s; at night and on weekends I hung out with artists and painted.”

Andy Warhol’s Bonwit Teller display, 1961. Image via Art21.

1961: Andy Warhol

Warhol, like Rosenquist, had been a commercial artists for many years – an illustrator specifically. In 1951, Bonwit Teller display director Gene Moore hired Warhol to provide artwork for the shop’s windows, as an extension of his work as a commercial artist. As an avant-garde Pop artist, Warhol’s work was not being taken seriously in New York at the time; the New York School painting style still ruled the mainstream art world.

But 1961 brought his big break. The artist hung five paintings behind department store models and announced the significance of his own artwork – lowbrow subjects with a cheeky take on consumerism. The paintings were based on comic book strips and newspaper advertisements, and the stylishly dressed mannequins in front played directly with the idea of art as advertising.

Left: Bonwit Teller, New York City. Right: Entrance and display windows. Images via The Department Store Museum.

For more than 50 years, Bonwit Teller had an eye for the New York avant-garde art scene; but, it seems that all good things must come to an end. In 1979 the shop was shuttered and acquired by magnate investor Donald Trump. By 1983 a tall, shiny skyscraper had replaced it ­­– the infamous mixed-use Trump Tower, home to both rapper Jay-Z and the Gucci flagship store.

Trump Tower rises from the Fifth Avenue site today but its art history significance is nothing compared to that of the late Bonwit Teller department store. Under Moore’s direction in the midcentury, Bonwit Teller gave many modern artists their starts in the world of art and design. With free creative reign, avant-garde artists experimented in the department store window, turning a glass case into an alternative art space, and introducing the public to new and exciting styles.

Today, we see these kinds of collaborations between artist and fashion houses frequently. Perhaps they, too, have Bonwit Teller to thank!

The New York Times ran an obituary-like commemoration of the ladies’ department store in 2014. For more facts and figures on Bonwit Teller, read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/realestate/fifth-avenue-bonwit-teller-opulence-lost.html

The Top Four Songs About Modern Art

Clockwise: Paul McCartney; Arabia Mountain Album Cover-Black Lips; Jay Z; Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time-Salvador Dali, 1939; Vincent van Gogh; Salvador Dali; Black Lips; Pablo Picasso; Starry Night-Vincent Van Gogh, 1889; Don McLean.

Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Salvador Dali are some of the greatest artists of the past century who have inspired some the greatest musicians of our time. Here are four songs that combine the best of both music and art worlds:

Shawn Carter Strikes Again:
Jay Z-Picasso Baby

The track starts out with Jay saying that all he wants is a Picasso in his castle. He then goes on to name drop like no other: he wants a Mark Rothko, a billion Jeff Koon balloons, to be surrounded by Andy Warhols, and to live at the MOMA. Hey, it’s Jay Z, he can have whatever he wants.

The most awesome part of this creation is his performance piece that got turned into a ten-minute art film. Jay Z raps the song to people in a New York gallery and even sneaks in a dance with Marina Abramovic.

Unhappy Marriages & Asylums:
Don McLean-Vincent (van Gogh)

McLean wrote this song during a rocky period in his life, while pushing through an unhappy marriage. The melancholy of Starry Night (painted by Vincent van Gogh after checking himself into an asylum) struck a chord with the singer, who proceeded to write the lyrics for the song on the only thing he had handy at the time, a paper bag, while looking at a print of the painting.

To step into mind-blowing territory for a second, van Gogh was an inspiration not only to McLean but to the rapper Tupac Shakur. Shakur has been quoted saying that he was moved by McLean’s “Vincent” and that he aspired to make songs just as touching.

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Raising A Drink To Picasso:
Paul McCartney & Wings-Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)

The idea for this song came when Dustin Hoffman challenged Paul McCartney to write a song about the article “Pablo Picasso’s Last Days and Final Journey” in the April 23, 1973 issue of Time Magazine. 

The title and lyrics of the song come from the reported last words of Pablo Picasso, “drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink anymore,” that were uttered to his guests before he went to bed and died in his sleep.

The album version of this song (unfortunately not the live version we have here), jumps around in terms of tempo and mood, but this fragmentation was an attempt by McCartney to evoke Picasso’s cubist paintings.

Tripping Out In A Salvador Dali Museum:
Black Lips-Modern Art

This song was conceived after Black Lips guitarist, Cole Alexander, went to a Salvador Dali Museum while tripping on ketamine. He said being high “canceled out the surrealism and [he] felt really normal” around Dali’s eccentric works.

The music video is far from normal but you should watch it anyway. It involves roosters floating through hazy red air and skulls wrapped in American flags, all electrified by punk music. It’s very psychedelic and makes you feel odd, but isn’t that how a surrealist painting should make you feel?

There are many other songs out there about art, what are some of your favorites? What artist-singer collaboration would you love to see? Let us know in the comments!

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