The art of advertising / the advertising of art

Chris Burden, Promo, 1976

For Chris Burden, best known at the time for difficult and dangerous performances such as Shoot (1971), television offered an appealing platform. His initial proposals for performance works having been turned down, his first television appearance was a 1972 interview that he – literally – hijacked to pursue his own agenda, turning the interview into a performance called TV Hijack. It’s not this that I want to write about though, mostly because I find the idea quite hard to contemplate but also because I find his subsequent strategy of buying advertising time rather more interesting.

Art isn’t usually advertised on television – the Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern notwithstanding – and the idea of an artist working with the format of a 10 second advert is an intriguing one.

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Selling a message

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (It’s a small world), 1990

If art reflects and comments on the world around us then it’s not surprising that it also has the potential to change minds. There are lots of artists whose work engages with political issues with the aim of helping bring about social change. And while I’m on a text theme it makes sense to think about some of those who use text directly to get their message across.

Barbara Kruger’s work draws on her own background in design and particularly in the magazine business. In her work, Kruger combines black and white photographs – often from magazines that promote the lifestyle she critiques – combined with text on a red ground. It’s a simple formula but it’s also a powerful one.

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Women’s things

Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked…?, 1989

As today is International Women’s Day, it seems like the right time to take a look at women’s place in the art world. It’s the twenty-first century, there are lots of women artists now, right? Well yes. Up to a point. Tacita Dean’s work is in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern at the moment and the big exhibition is of the work of Yayoi Kusama. Perhaps all’s right with the world? Clearly, it wasn’t ever thus.

In 1989 the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of women artists and the self-styled ‘conscience of the art world’, conducted an audit of the work on display on the Modern Art sections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The statistics really weren’t good. Only 5% of the artists were female but 85% of the nudes were. No matter how familiar we are with art history and the dominance of male artists, that’s still a pretty shocking figure, especially since the group had specifically restricted their attention to the modern art sections where things might be expected to be a bit less bad. Surely by now things have changed?

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