Chanel Mobile Art Container by Zaha Hadid Opens in Central Park

October 20, 2008

“Mobile Art”, a slick UFO-like exhibition space designed by architect Zaha Hadid and commissioned by Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, has arrived at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield (off Fifth Avenue and 69th Street). The traveling container for about 20 Chanel-inspired projects (very kindly misbilled as contemporary art installations — don’t be fooled: it’s corporate branding) by a rotating list of international producers will be open to the public from October 20 to November 9.

The promotional-spectacle-disguised-as-art container is on a two-year worldwide tour. Launched in Hong Kong in February 2008, it traveled to Tokyo before arriving in New York. In November, it continues onto London, then Moscow, and finally Paris in 2010. (These stops probably represent the fashion house’s most lucrative markets, yes?)

Adrian Benepe, NY’s Parks & Recreation Commissioner, is ever-eager to further the corporate takeover of public space, aka public-private partnerships:

Our partnership with Chanel continues the great tradition of bringing world class cultural offerings to New York City’s parks… Zaha Hadid’s traveling pavilion will place a futuristic work of architecture and outstanding works of contemporary art in an historic setting in the heart of Central Park. The contrast will be fantastic, melding the vision of one of the world’s most important fashion houses with the beauty of one of the world’s most significant works of landscape design.

Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s Fashion President, is ever-eager to equate the company’s products with art:

Mobile Art was conceived as a project that examines the relationship between contemporary art, fashion and architecture. The project pushes the boundaries of the Chanel aesthetic by joining these mediums and creating an innovative artistic experience. As envisioned by Karl Lagerfeld, the project explores the role fashion plays in the everyday life of women through symbolic evocations of the Chanel quilted handbag.

ACK. In the midst of today’s economy, this recalls Marie-Antoinette’s response when she was told that the French had no bread to eat: “Let Them Eat Cake!”

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Still Life from a Starbucks Civilization

July 10, 2008

Just before the not-long-enough July 4th weekend, globalized coffeemaker Starbucks announced that it will be closing 600 stores. By now, we’ve heard gleeful reactions from people who support the demise of this Walmart of coffee beans. We’ve also, of course, heard the human side to these closings: 12,000 full- and part-timers are losing their jobs (that’s 7% of Starbucks’ workforce).

I don’t know whether this is good or bad. But the Starbucks phenomenon hints at a critical issue facing countless developing communities (aka emerging markets) around the world: how to negotiate transnational and commercial development (which might bring much-needed basic services like water and electricity) with local culture (which binds people together).

Yesterday I was on a United Airlines flight, reading Paul Ricoeur’s “History and Truth”, which prompted thoughts about Starbucks:

We have the feeling that this single world civilization…exerts a sort of attrition or wearing away at the expense of the cultural resources which have made the great civilizations of the past. This threat is expressed, among other disturbing effects, by the spreading before our eyes of a mediocre civilization which is the absurd counterpart of elementary culture. Everywhere throughout the world, one finds the same bad movie, the same slot machines, the same plastic or aluminum atrocities, the same twisting of language by propaganda…

And as I’m reading this, I ask for a cup of coffee and what do I get?

One could make an attempt to scream.

Caffeinated, back to Ricoeur:

In order to get on to the road toward modernization, is it necessary to jettison the old cultural past which has been the raison d’etre of a nation?…

It is a fact: every culture cannot sustain and absorb the shock of modern civilization.

Looping back to Starbucks’ store closings, though, I’m a bit more optimistic. Sometimes modern civilization just cannot sustain and absorb the shock of local culture.

Hey, some people just DON’T want to unite with the same mass-produced cups of $5 coffee anywhere and everywhere. It’s a start.


Beijing Olympics: The Curse of the Five Fuwa Mascots

June 19, 2008

fuwa

These five Fuwa characters are the official mascots of the Beijing Games. Based on the five traditional Olympic rings (designed in 1913 to represent the five major continents), four symbolize China’s most popular animals and one stands in for the Olympic flame.

According to the official website:

Each of Fuwa has a rhyming two-syllable name… Beibei is the Fish, Jingjing is the Panda, Huanhuan is the Olympic Flame, Yingying is the Tibetan Antelope and Nini is the Swallow.

When you put their names together — Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni — they say “Welcome to Beijing”…

Turns out, the mascots also represent five curses. According to Reuters:

After a devastating earthquake struck Sichuan province last month, Internet users tied four of the five Fuwa mascots to the calamities that have struck China…

One Fuwa is a panda, the totem of Sichuan [earthquakes]. The others resemble a torch, reminding netizens of the protests against the international Olympic torch rally; a Tibetan antelope tied to widespead demonstrations in Tibetan areas; and a swallow that looks like a kite, linked to a deadly train crash in Shandong province.

The final Fuwa, sporting a fish, was left unexplained… until widespread flooding in southern and central China claimed dozens of lives in June.

Reuters reports that government censors have been removing postings about the curse so as not to fuel the superstitious. The Games, however, are still scheduled to begin at 8:08 PM on 8/8/08 — 8 being a lucky number for certain superstitious Chinese.


Belgian-Brasilian Brewer InBev Moves To Buy America’s Budweiser

June 12, 2008

InBev, the world’s top brewer and maker of Stella Artois and Becks beer brands, has submitted an unsolicited bid of $46 billion to buy Anheuser-Busch, America’s leading brewer and maker of “The Great American Lager”: Budweiser.

budWhile reports say that InBev’s offer of $65 per share is extremely competitive (considering that before InBev made its move, A-B’s price per share was at $58), many Americans are opposing the takeover. Matt Blunt, governor of Missouri where A-B is headquartered, is strongly opposed and has reportedly ordered the state’s Department of Economic Development “to explore every option and any opportunity we may have at the state level to help keep A-B where it belongs — in St. Louis, Missouri.”

Two websites are already collecting signatures to oppose the sale: SaveBudweiser.com, which now has 34,000 signatures, and SaveAB.com, now with more than 12,000. They are looking at the InBev takeover as a “foreign invasion” and vow to “fight to protect this American treasure.”

Another American icon, the Chrysler Building, may also end up in foreign hands. On the same day A-B confirmed its receipt of InBev’s bid, msnbc reported that The Abu Dhabi Investment Council, a sovereign wealth fund, is negotiating to buy a 75% stake in the Chrysler for $800 million. (This also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, itself now owned by Australian-born Rupert Murdoch.)

Globalization has come full circle. In the mid-1970s, the term “globalization” achieved prominence when American Express advertised the global reach of its credit card. American capital needed new global markets and the term implied a unidirectional move abroad.

30 years later, the flows of capital are moving in multiple directions as economic power decenters. While the world’s wealthiest individual is still an American (Warren Buffett), Forbes reports the “dawning of a new era”. Two years ago, half of the world’s 20 richest billionaires were from the U.S. In March 2008, only four are.

America is beginning to feel firsthand the tangible and often devastating effects of globalized capitalism and neoliberalism, largely its own creation. These are effects that other nations have been trying to manage for at least the past couple decades since Ronald Reagan rose to power.

We’re going to have to learn to play nice in the global playground. We no longer own it.

And soon, we might have to switch to: Cette Bud est pour vous!


Mona Lisa After One Week in the U.S.

May 29, 2008

monalisa

P.S. Got these Mona Lisas in an email. Tried to look up the source, but couldn’t find. Feel free to comment if you know!

While we’re at it:

Taming the wild with Timotei styling mousse: an ad by JWT, Paris.

lion

And another play on cultural icons: an ad for the German Olympic Sports Federation by Scholz & Friends in Hamburg.

statues


Castro on Obama, Hunger, and Consumerism

May 26, 2008

The rumble for Florida’s votes is on and the winner may depend on what Miami’s Cuban immigrants see as the future of their motherland. Clinton, Obama, and McCain are sparring over how they will deal with Fidel Castro, now 81, and younger brother Raul, who formally assumed the presidency in February 2008. Mirroring the majority of immigrants’ sentiments, Clinton and McCain are vowing not to deal with the socialist republic until it introduces more democratic reforms. Obama is going against the grain, pledging to open up official lines of communication with the most populous nation in the Caribbean.

In the past, the older Castro has voiced his support of Obama and an Obama-Clinton ticket. However, in a surprising Reuters report today, Castro criticized Obama’s speech in Miami last Friday wherein Obama called for lifting restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba. Castro, as quoted by Reuters:

“Obama’s speech can translate into a formula of hunger for the nation (Cuba), the remittances like alms and the visits to Cuba as propaganda for consumerism and the unsustainable lifestyle that he sustains.

“How is the very grave problem of the food crisis going to be confronted? Grains must be distributed among human beings, domestic animals and fish, which year by year are smaller and more scarce in the over-exploited seas,” Castro said. “It’s not easy to produce meat from gas and oil.”

Castro is pointing out the dangers of rhetoric and smooth talk, which is Obama’s Achilles heel. But I wonder how much Castro himself has been able to stop the tide of consumerism within Cuba. Here’s a photo of Castro published by Reuters in a separate article. It was apparently taken by Brazilian President Lula during their meeting in Havana in January. Why is Castro wearing an ADIDAS track top? One might consider this a very successful case of advertising or product placement, aka “propaganda for consumerism”. Not good: a picture is worth a thousand words.

castro

soccer

Note:

Adidas, of course, knows best. The company’s got an “Adidas Cuba Retro Track Top” for soccer fans and Cuban loyalists.


Ambassador Hello Kitty and Dreamworlds for Tourists

May 20, 2008

hellokittyJapan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has named Hello Kitty, the famous feline character mass-produced by Sanrio Co., as its goodwill ambassador to China and Hong Kong. This move is part of the ministry’s “Visit Japan” campaign which aims to attract 10 million visitors each year. AP reports that tourists from China and Hong Kong accounted for 16.5% of visitors to Japan last year and are poised to become the second largest group of tourists after South Koreans. The billion-dollar Hello Kitty brand is wildly popular among these groups and Kitty-mania is being pushed throughout China. A multi-million dollar musical, “Hello Kitty’s Dream Light Fantasy” opened in Beijing in March and is scheduled to travel to Malaysia, Singapore, and the U.S. as part of a 3-year run. hellokitty dream

The use of a cartoon franchise to market and cross-sell is not new. Snoopy speaks for MetLife, while Yogi Bear hustles family campsites and Shrek peddles cereal. A stuffed animal or an animated cartoon does evoke warm and cuddly feelings. What IS specifically different about Hello Kitty is its employment by Japan to communicate with China, a country it invaded 70 years ago as part of an imperialist policy to take over China’s vast resources. Today, the takeover is not being accomplished with the military. It is done with merchandising, wherein consumer goods (serial, mass-produced, inexpensive and therefore attainable objects) are endowed with human qualities and ambassadorial charm. Hello Kitty’s pitch is the dream of world peace, harmony, and abundance through mass entertainment, consumption of spectacle, and tourist spending.

And this pitch IS trademarked. Artist Tom Sachs, who just installed his Hello Kitty sculptures at Lever House earlier this month (and famously substituted Hello Kitty for the Baby Jesus at Barney’s holiday windows back in 1994), never got permission to use the ambassador’s likeness and could face legal action. In New York Magazine, Sachs proclaims, “Hello Kitty is so much a part of our popular culture, I don’t think anyone really owns it. It’s something licensed by Sanrio, but I think her spirit and love and purity belong to all of us.” He could have been speaking for the Japanese Ministry. Maybe Sanrio will let this one slide: it does elevate Hello Kitty into a cultural icon, which is great for business.