Re:Public

New Museum Ethics Quagmire Gets Its Own Unofficial Ad Campaign

by Hrag Vartanian on March 9, 2010

Tenth Avenue in Chelsea

The unfortunately titled Skin Fruit has already opened on the platinum coast of downtown Manhattan, formerly known as the Bowery. And guess what, not everyone is happy. I know, I know, you’re shocked.

Last weekend while avoiding the art fairs, I spotted a fantastic street poster in Chelsea that lampooned the New Museum and its newfound taste for caviar. Adding to the already hilarious poster was the fact that someone had slapped on a sticker of Hargo’s fantastic CA$H FOR YOUR WARHOL campaign on top so that it appeared as one of the blocks of the structure. It was the type of moment that made me realize how much I love the streets of New York, so full of life … and discontent.

Since my discovery I’ve been looking for the image’s source. I asked street art photographer Luna Park for a possible answer, and she was at a loss after pointing out the poster’s high production values (and no name attached to it) excluded the usual street art suspects.

The infamous poster (click to enlarge)

I wondered if the poster was the work of Bruce High Quality Foundation and their spoof culture, but those guys are so eager to be co-opted by the art system — oh wait, they already are — that I doubt they would flay such a powerful art institution publicly and with such panache!

I finally tracked down the image hidden on the website of Shellac, a New York-based company that does post-production for films.

After a quick phone call, I discovered the brilliant campaign was the brain child of three friends, Adam Wissing, Kenny Komer, and Boris Rasin. The same crew was also responsible for the fantastic wild posting campaign last fall that pitted incumbent New York mayor Michael Bloomberg against fictional millionaire Monty Burns of Simpsons fame.

“It was fun to run an out of touch millionaire against an out of touch billionaire,” Adam said during our phone chat about their first street project that garnered major attention and was part of the Art in Odd Places festival last fall. “We like Bloomberg but he’s changing the rules of the game [for better or worse] and we want to point that out.”

Their latest campaign is a dig at the New Museum and they use the museum’s own ad slogan, “New Art, New Ideas,” against them. “The New Museum says they are about new ideas, but Jeff Koons is the biggest artist out there and so establishment. He’s curating the collection of Dakis, who is one of the biggest collectors, and the value of his collection will go up. There are so many levels to this and it is all being shown in a nonprofit museum. I’m excited to see the show but it’s not ‘new ideas,’” Adam says.

Do the New Museum's pens lie? (image via newmuseumstore.org) (click to enlarge)

Like their previous campaign, the trio aren’t interested in politics as much as pointing out the obvious problems.  “It’s more about creating a dialogue and finding fun and interesting ways of getting people talking about things,” he says.

“Kenny and Boris are more involved in the art world, I’m more of an outsider,” he explains.

The group posted the posters across the city the day before the press preview at the New Museum. They thought about releasing a statement about their campaign but chose not to. “We want to create a dialogue, it’s not about ‘check out our work,’” he says.

If the campaign is obviously critical to art world insiders, the posters impact may be harder to discern for non-art world peeps. A friend of mine on Twitter posted a photo of the posters this morning. When I asked him if he knew the source, he responded that he “had assumed they were done in-house.” Adam wasn’t surprised when I told him that my intelligent Twitter buddy didn’t understand the spoof immediately. “We were debating if it was too similar to the New Museum’s own branding or not,” he says.

Part of me wonders if people simply think the institution has no ethics anymore and will do anything for splash and attention.

The Anti-Establishment poster mashes together the absurd coloring of Dakis Joannou’s Jeff Koons-designed yacht, the New Museum’s iconic (and expensive) structure with a sentiment many of us are wondering for some time now, “Oh, New Museum, when did you become so establishment?”

But even if people don’t get it, it’s really really funny.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zachary-Adam-Cohen/761572845 Zachary Adam Cohen

    oh snap! BHQF co-opted. Damn brother!! truth to powah!

  • Lyra

    I didn’t get the yacht reference–I thought they were a stack of shoe boxes. Either way works though!

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  • http://newcleanblog.blogspot.com/ Lawrence Swan

    Hrag, has anyone written about Dakis Joannou, and this show, in the context of Greece’s economic crisis? He is described as an “industrialist,” but articles I’ve found are about his standing in the Culture Industry (admittedly my attention span doesn’t stretch past page two of a Google search. In any case, terms like “class resentment” come up even in Schjejldahl’s review, but he doesn’t mention modern Greece’s collapse, even when he notes that “the global tide of prosperity” has been receding.
    Have you seen the show? Are you going to? C’mon don’t these rich people speak to our experience?

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      No, that’s an interesting question. Do you have any links to check out?

  • http://newcleanblog.blogspot.com/ Lawrence Swan

    Only the last word of your question appears in the above comment box.
    There might be a relevant link on page three of the Google search.
    Maybe Greece can pay off its debt by socializing the Deste Foundation. At the very least, the Joannou/Koons exhibit shows an “art world” far away from the world of most people, and not in the sense of sublime elevation, but in the sense of board rooms where deals are made to further enrich the rich few while everyone else is in financial panic. See Goldman Sach’s complicity in covering up Greece’s debt: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/01/business/global/01views.html
    New Art, New Ideas, New Ethics

  • http://newcleanblog.blogspot.com/ Lawrence Swan

    The last sentence of Finch’s article is nice: “Either way, the art world, blind and uncurious about the way the world works, must satisfy Dakis, an Art King surrounded by eunuch courtiers.”

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