There’s been a bit of buzz about the MAC cosmetic line’s announcement of the face (or faces, actually) for its latest advertising campaign, that of the edgy and iconoclastic self-portrait photographer Cindy Sherman (right). Set to launch at the end of this month, some are lauding the collaboration as a perfect fit, others lament it’s a sell-out by a serious and highly regarded conceptual artist.

It wouldn’t be the first case. Sherman joins a line of noted predecessors whose talents traversed the crass landscape of merchandising. One was Norman Rockwell, who had a long history of creating art for advertising, spanning from 1914 to 1976. A must-see and creatively outrageous example from the 1960s is the Salvador Dali commercial for Alka-Seltzer (video left), a strangely disturbing concoction that ends with the Surrealist genius’s voice-over: “Alka-Seltzer is a work of art. Truly one of a kind. Like…Dali!” In the ’80s, Absolut Vodka featured a memorable series consisting of bottles painted by such cutting-edgers of the art realm as Andy Warhol, Edward Ruscha, and Keith Haring, below.

A surprise for me was learning that even that goddess of artistic purity, Georgia O’Keeffe, had a brief foray in pedestrian commercialism. In the ‘40s, she spent some time in Hawaii as part of a commission for Dole’s “Hawaiian Pineapple” brand; O’Keeffe being O’Keeffe, she produced a papaya instead. (A problem, as papayas were the purview of Dole’s prime competition.) It all worked out in the end (ad — with her pineapple bud — below left).

Profane or not, maybe a larger by-product of these creative/commercial combinations is wider awareness for consumers oblivious to the world of art.
Which is always a good thing.

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