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Carolyn Castiglia Headshot

Whitney Biennial Jumps the Shark

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Okay, I'll admit it, I'm not the type of gal who normally pays attention to what's going on at The Whitney. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy a good piece of art as much as the next dude, but The Whitney never really piqued my interest. That all changed last week, however, when I noticed a Gap ad outside the 14th Street ACE featuring who I thought at first glance was a rough-looking Yoko Ono wearing a t-shirt that reads, "The Days of This Society is Numbered." I thought, well, yeah, Yoko, especially if you're shilling for the Gap! Fortunately, a little Google searching proved me wrong about the model. It's not John's widow, but rather artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. (Yeah, um, he's a guy. Don't worry, you two - it happens to the best of us. People get mistaken for the opposite gender all the time. Just ask Chris Crocker.) Here he is, sporting his design:

societytee

These "artist edition t-shirts," designed by such luminaries as Jeff Koons and Chuck Close, are a part of the 2008 Biennial. Yes, that's right, the poor man's Banana Republic and rich man's Old Navy has gone one step beyond trying to solve the AIDS crisis with their Product Red items and into sheer ridiculousness with these art world gems.

Stella McCartney for Target - check.
Karl Lagerfeld for H&M - check.
What's next? Marc Jacobs for Big K?

I hate to burst your bubble, Rirkrit, but the benevolent deliverance of high-concept design filled with form and function for "real" people is why this society's days are numbered. It's bread and circuses as my husband, the historian, would say. If us working class people can get our hands on tee-shirts with prints created by actual artists (produced in Chinese sweatshops), why should we complain that we don't have health care? Got an open wound? Take that Jeff Koons t-shirt, shred it up and use it as a tourniquet. The blood splatter should fit in perfectly with the contemporary pattern.

Let me make my point clear. This is by no means a diatribe about artists and whether or not they should sell-out to corporations. Rather, this is a complaint about corporations using artists or diseases or anything that will resonate with the general public as a way of making them look like they actually care about the welfare of the average American. A lot of people complain about how someone like Kanye West spends all his time talking about how much he loves Kanye West. At least he's not trying to dupe anyone into thinking otherwise. A little transparency would be nice here. That's all I'm saying. And I don't mean see-through tank tops, though I suppose that could be cute, too, provided you were wearing the right bra. If only Victoria's Secret would start a campaign to cure malaria.

UPDATE: An interesting post scriptum... you may notice an automatically generated Gap ad is appearing under this entry. I guess irony is an art form of its own.