Rebelling against The Corporation is generally a reactive measure, performed with the idea that one is lashing out at an unmoving and socially negligent body. But what happens when one of the attacked groups actually retaliates?
Art by Art Jacobs shirt.
On May 7, French graffiti artist Kidult defaced the storefront of a Marc Jacobs shop in SoHo with the word "ART" in giant, pink block letters. A long-winded and relatively hilarious turn of events followed wherein Marc Jacobs and Kidult began a Twitter-slash-t-shirt battle over "art," ownership and wit.
Known for quickly staking claim on all of his work, Kidult identified himself as the provocateur responsible. But then Jacobs staked a claim of his own, responding with an Instagram photo of the defaced store along with the words, "Art by Art Jacobs." What came next was a sarcastic and witty attempt by Jacobs to spin the event that resulted in an amazing PR boost for the American designer.
While Kidult was making, at best, some sort of ambiguous point, Jacobs ran the distance with it. The pink "Art by Art Jacobs" t-shirt created by Jacobs for his "campaign" raises questions about the ownership of creative property in the specific instance of destruction of property. It also considers the grey area of ownership when art is transferred between mediums. Jacobs seemed to have caught both Kidult and the public off-guard by his ingenious take on the altercation: far from the typical corporate response of silence, Jacobs effectively created more social commentary than the original outburst.
I would never debate the legitimacy of public art (or graffiti, for that matter). However, has using outdoor public or private space to showcase social commentary art become more about notoriety than the message itself? If Kidult truly believed he had ownership and/or creative license over this "work," why would he place it over a privately owned place of business? Why alienate the rights of others, while attempting to protect your own?
It's one thing to play David against Goliath, but it's important to maintain the mantra of "do as I do" not simply "do as I say." By compromising the purity of the message Kidult was trying to send to the art, fashion and public communities, Kidult comes across more as jealous than championing retribution for the little guy.
Then again, what is it that he's trying to get retribution for? The use of graffiti culture by large fashion houses? Commercialism in general? Perhaps it's the impurity of art for profit? Whichever it may be, the lack of clarity in his message put me off from the get-go. What kind of commentary is he really presenting when he regularly plays off the same logo addiction as the corporations he's butting heads with? Coopting established iconography to get his point across is one thing, but attempting to capitalise from it - with notoriety, monetarily or otherwise - in the exact same way as his catalysts do, dissolves credibility.
Tweaking and bastardising company logos is not a new phenomenon. One of the most notorious examples may be the signature "liquidation" effect ZEVS used on the Chanel logo when he painted it on an Armani boutique in Hong Kong. This was another anti-consumer message gone wrong - the tagging was more of a publicity stunt for ZEVS' Liquidated Logos show (which opened in the same city the next day) than anything else. ZEVS' take on the logo has also been co-opted by Chanel enthusiasts who have simply turned into another take on the classic logo, without people taking any particular meaning from it.
ZEVS tagging Chanel logo on Armani store.
If the medium is the message (presumably, graffiti), than Kidult has positioned himself not as a graffiti artist but as a tagger: defacing an established work in order to piggyback on its notoriety. With such endless opportunities for art to convey emotion, information, or what have you, simplifying the finished product (like simply writing "ART" in pink letters) can result in negating the intended message. As an example, much of Banksy's work can instantly inform an onlooker as to what he's trying to get at with each piece. Outside arguments about physical or intellectual property, quality or anything else, lucidity within the message is paramount.
By reducing the situation to a battle of the t-shirts (Kidult released his own version of the Art by Art Jacobs t-shirt), Kidult is swimming upstream against a current he doesn't seem to completely understand. Given that Jacobs' t-shirt is only available in pink, produced in limited numbers exclusively for the SoHo location and retails for US$689, it's very unlikely that Jacobs was attempting to financially cash-in on the debacle. Rather, its production is a comedic jab at Kidult's sensibilities, testing his conceptions of art, ownership and capitalism.
With the reputation Kidult is garnering for replicating this same stunt against various houses, including Hermès and Louis Vuitton, it may be time from him to switch up his delivery. Now that established names have seen how Jacobs has handled the SoHo situation, responses to other retail attacks such as this will likely be met with unique and well thought-out responses.
Whether you're for Kidult or Jacobs, the scene painted by this event has created a flood of news, blog and personal responses from around the world. From Team Marc groups on the higher-end fashion publications to the streetwear enthusiasts and Kidult followers on blogs like Highsnobiety, it has been interesting to follow the conversations that have begun. With the recent downturn in retail as well as in funding for public art, will we begin to see more head-butting between the two industries? I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.
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