Opinion

When the “Brooklyn Artist” Is a Commodity

Happy holidays, Brooklyn artists: your livelihoods have been apotheosized into a singular, hot commodity.

Snow globe for sale in a Soho cupcake store (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

It’s shitty enough for an artist to receive no mention when his or her art is for sale — but it’s almost laughably cruel when a reduction of their identity becomes the work’s prime selling point. This particular dispirited snow globe is, we are told, simply the creation of a “BROOKLYN ARTIST.” Spotted recently on the counter of one popular Soho cupcake store, the glass orb is one of a number of non-baked goods offered for the Christmas season, meant to entice the largely tourist crowds. Happy holidays, Brooklyn artists: your livelihoods have been apotheosized into a singular, hot commodity.

The artists who should have received credit here are Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, who together work under the name Ligorano/Reese. Their “F**K Snow Globe,” as the work is officially titled, was created in 2008; you can find it in many art and design stores, including at the New Museum, where it’s a bestseller. The transgression of non-accreditation here, though a glaring oversight, could be excused: I don’t expect a Soho cupcake store to necessarily know of Ligorano/Reese or care about promoting them (although someone knows of them enough to know they’re based in Brooklyn). But the words “BROOKLYN ARTIST” are more than a negligent scrawl; they’re an example of a marketing strategy that feeds on the trendiness of the borough — which is, by now, a global phenomenon. What’s more, although it’s small, this instance specifically capitalizes on the borough’s artist community, which is increasingly romanticized in visions that overlook very real issues related, for instance, to gentrification and affordable housing (how to sell your Brooklyn space on Airbnb: list it as an “artist’s loft” ).

Brooklyn™ mania reduces the borough’s diverse offerings to a generalized style; for artists, this tends to mean that their works become signifiers of the cool and the hip, with their value associated more with semantics than with content or form. It’s telling that whoever wrote the snow globe’s label didn’t find it necessary to append the names of the creators, “Ligorano/Reese” — the words “BROOKLYN ARTIST” supposedly tell you everything you need to know, aka that your $60 (plus tax) is worth this zeitgeisty object.

This may be a good thing for some Brooklyn artists who want, or don’t mind, this sort of promotional boost. But the branding denigrates their work while also reflecting and reinforcing broader art world disparities of visibility and privilege; when you see someone market an object as being made by a “Bronx Artist,” let me know.

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