After getting a prominent artist to design a print or a motif for a bag or a scarf, one of the latest frontiers of the "collaboration" between a prominent fashion house/brand and an artist is to ask the latter to create an installation for a shop window or an in-store space. The results, though, can at times be rather questionable.
To join in the celebrations for the 56th International Art Exhibition in Venice, the Hermès shop (just off St Mark's Square) features in two windows an installation by sculptor Eva Jospin (her surname may be familiar with some of you since she is the daughter of Lionel Jospin, Prime Minister of France until 2002).
Jospin is known for her poetical installations made by shredding multi-layered cardboard walls and reducing them to bas-reliefs portraying natural scenes characterised by an amazing sense of depth.
The installations in the window shops – entitled "Déjeuner sur l'herbe" (after Manet's eponymous work) and recreating a wheat field – took her two months to make and will remain in the windows until June.
The dilemma in this case is, do the pieces look like works of art or props for shop window displays? Well, you will easily find out the answer by spending a few minutes standing next to the windows and observing the reactions of the passers-by.
I did this experiment and most consumers looked at the products on display, pointing them out to each other, and mentioning sizes and colours, but all of them walked away without commenting on the artworks.
So, Jospin seems to have created quite beautiful shop window props, something that spawns another dilemma: should we instead consider some props for shop window displays as artworks? (think about the props for Tim Walker's photo shoots, though in his case the props are a sort of tool or an instrument to create an arty vision...).
Not too far from the Hermès shop, the Espace Louis Vuitton offers a different exhibition curated by Eva Kraus. The event juxtaposes German artist Tito Schulz's room installation with Francesco Hayez (1791-1882)'s lunettes from the Palazzo Ducale in Venice.
The lunettes were painted by Hayez in 1819 and represent allegorical scenes about continents and oceans, with mythical creatures and sea monsters against scenic backdrops.
The works were supposed to decorate the rooms of the stock exchange and chamber of commerce (they were commissioned by its chairman Giuseppe Treves de' Bonfili), and were then mounted as architectural arches under the ceiling.
The presentation of the lunettes was made possible after their restoration work was funded by Louis Vuitton, as part of its partnership with the Fondazione Musei Civici Venezia (MUVE; you wonder why Vuitton never offered to put some money into preserving the collections of Palazzo Mocenigo, the Museum and Study Centre of the History of Fabrics and Costumes, as that would be more relevant to a fashion group...). So we have another case here of restoration/appropriation as seen in previous posts.
Schulz responded with an installation consisting in two discs - symbols of the "orbis terrarum" - with one mirrored side and one painted side, that create contrasts between abstract and dynamic surfaces.
The Espace is located on the third floor of the Louis Vuitton store, so visitors interested in seeing these works of art will be granted the entire luxury experience, complete of being stared at by the staff especially if you look like the average tourist temporarily residing in a budget hotel/hostel and not like the average luxury buyer just off a super yacht.
While this is supposed to be a way for the shop to attract more potential customers and people who do not normally visit luxury shops, stepping into the door of a high end boutique covered in sweat and dust and dressed in functional clothes only attracts the suspicious stares of the shop assistants, something that automatically discourages most people unfamiliar with such environments to get in.
A third example of patronage/sponsorship of an artist at the Venice Biennale is represented by the Swatch Pavilion featuring an installation by Joana Vasconcelos that offers visitors the chance to wander around in a mechanically mesmerising Garden of Eden.
The pavilion is part of the Giardini and features a fun installation that revolves around the natural/artificial dichotomy and includes moving flowers that light up.
The flowers emerge from cylinders covered with black Lycra and containing lights, synchronous micromotors, compact fluorescent light bulbs and transparent polychrome acrylic disks.
The mechanical sounds they produce inspired an electronic art music composition by Jonas Runa who also came up with the "Synchronicity" electronic performance. The latter takes places twice a day in the pavilion and features a performer in an electroluminescent costume designed by Vasconcelos.
The brand is not too much in your face in this pavilion and doesn't suffocate Vasconcelos's exuberantly disturbing flowers, even though the installation is under the patronage of a company sponsoring the Biennale (and the Biennale catalogue as well).
The best thing about this "collaboration" is that it is characterised by a visible yet quieter presence of a major sponsor, so that they don't try to sell you a watch at the exit (though they warmly remind you that Vasconcelos designed a new Swatch & Art watch released during the Biennale).
In conclusion, once again, is this patronage or brand identity in expansion? You decide, but, in the meantime, watch out the next time you stop in front of a boutique's shop window: you may indeed be staring at a modern work of art or a restored masterpiece from the Renaissance and you may not be aware of it.
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