The Art of Product Placement
Art Newspaper reports that the apparently cash-starved Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) has extended the lease of paintings by Manet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir, and Cézanne to Paperball, a company run by Pace-Wildenstein that "operates a pocket-sized exhibition space in the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas." I've seen the exhibition space in the Bellagio, and "pocket-sized" is a euphemism. And while I want to retch when I think about the context, at least the Bellagio admits its raison d'etre is entertainment.
In lieu of getting to see its Impressionist paintings, however, the MFA is offering its viewers an exhibition of cars. That's right, if Krens can offer Guggy viewers motorcycles, why can't MFA offer its patrons cars? Ah, but wait, these are no ordinary cars...this exhibition comes complete with built-in cross-promotional opportunities. Behold: "Speed, Style, and Beauty: Cars from the Ralph Lauren Collection." And, of course, it's worse than you think:
The vintage Mercedes, Bugattis and Ferraris are undeniably beautiful design objects, but unless the museum treats them as it does other categories of fine and decorative arts, the institution blurs its mission with those of commercial and entertainment venues. For the Ralph Lauren show, the MFA leans heavily in that direction, with Mr Lauren’s voice on the audio guide, and a catalogue interview that allows him to discuss how his cars relate to his merchandise, not to mention his company’s ad campaigns. (emphasis mine)
Of course, the museum will argue that design has its place in their program and that ticket sales prove they're just giving the public what it wants, but stunts like this eventually make the MFA, like the Guggenheim, a bit of a joke. As Mark Kostabi noted recently, when it comes to art, often "what you see is where you see it." In this case, Lauren may benefit from having his collection seen in the context of a museum that has a certain prestige, but unfortunately that transaction doesn't work in reverse. Lauren has no serious art-world-valued prestige to offer the museum, and neither do his cars, beautiful as they may be.