After much speculation, a few days ago Damien Hirst finally opened his big extravaganza, the glamorous and gross "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable" exhibition at Palazzo Grassi in Venice. A pile of assorted statues and relics covered in fake corals, the exhibition could be described as what happens when you have too much money and you don't know what to do with it. So, supported by extremely wealthy entrepreneurs - in this case François Pinault (Palazzo Grassi hosts his private art collection) - you organise a massive exhibition.
Hirst admires Jeff Koons and for a bizarre twist of destiny or for rivalry reasons between Pinault and Bernard Arnault (chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy), just two days ago, Louis Vuitton's unveiled its latest arty collaboration - "Masters", a collection of 51 bags, small leather goods, scarves and other assorted accessories designed in collaboration with Koons.
The items include prints of Jean-Honoré Fragonard's "Girl With a Dog", Peter Paul Rubens' "Tiger, Lion and the Leopard Hunt", Titian's "Mars, Venus and Cupid", Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and Vincent Van Gogh's "Wheat Field With Cypresses".
The pieces move from Koons' "Gazing Ball" artwork, large-scale hand-painted reproductions of works by Old Masters sprouting a shelf on which he placed a large, blue glass bauble (the "gazing ball") shown at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2015.
Koons, who developed the collaboration over one year - added a further touch of bling to the accessories by applying the surnames of the painters in large metallic letters (a nod at hip-hop jewelry?). He self-referenced himself by including a tag with a pink rabbit calling to mind his inflatable works, and adde to the trademark LV monogram his own initials.
The collection launch was accompanied by a video with animated paintings that calls to mind Rino Stefano Tagliafierro's early animated versions of classic paintings (Tagliafierro started doing them in 2014; but if Tagliafierro didn't do the Louis Vuitton video, well, Koons will claim he wasn't copying nor appropriating, just quoting and reinventing...).
For a further arty connection Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari photographed "A Shepherdess Seated With Sheep and a Basket of Flowers Near a Ruin in a Wooded Landscape" by Jean-Honoré Fragonard with one of Koons/Vuitton's bags for Vogue's May 2017 issue.
This is not the first time Koons goes down the fashionable road: in the past he collaborated on one-off projects with Stella McCartney (a necklace and a bracelet) and printed his balloon dogs on bags for H&M.
In the same way, Vuitton took the arty path in previous collaborations with Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Stephen Sprouse. For Louis Vuitton this is a new collaboration, following the recent one with Supreme, launched during men's fashion week.
While this umpteenth collaboration proves that the luxury market is desperately looking for new and younger consumers, it also highlights a problem – museums are also trying to attract younger audiences. Vuitton's A/W 2017 womenswear show took place at the Louvre in March; the bags were unveiled around the same time (but guests were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements and refrain from taking pictures), before being officially launched with a dinner on Tuesday night again at the Louvre (the "Mona Lisa" is actually the only painting appropriated by Koons that belongs to the museum).
Yet not many young people out there may be able to afford the designs (and it doesn't look like Louis Vuitton will be donating any money to a museum with this collection...).
If you consider that a key chain will set you back about $585 and a large carryall $4,000, you realise that, rather than being post-modernist prank or a charitable effort in the name of culture, this is a commercial tacky exercise for wealthy people, so those ones among us interested in getting an arty souvenir will still have turn to museum gift shops scattered all over the world and to their classic (and affordable) tote bags, scarves, notebooks and pencils with prints of works of art.
In a way, this collection reopens the "Is fashion art?" debate, proving in this case that fashion is not art especially when it consists in stealing a painting that is not legally covered by any copyright anymore, having it printed on an accessory and lazily making them pass for the wonderful original work of a rebel genius.
Yet Koons may actually be a genius at protecting his own stuff: think about it, if as an artist you create a genuinely original print or motif for a fashion house you will definitely get copied (there were a lot of Murakami X Louis Vuitton's copies when the products for that collaboration were released for the first time...) and the market will soon be flooded with cheap imitations of your own artwork. Which means you as an artist may have to spend more money to protect your work/sue copyists and so on. In this case Koons is copying/quoting somebody else, so whoever remakes the bags will produce a copy of a copy, and Koons won't have to worry about somebody infringing his copyright and having to drag them to court, which means he will also save quite a bit of money.
At the same time the Koons X Louis Vuitton collaboration (apparently, it will be a long-running one with more stuff to be released later on) may represent an interesting glimpse into a depressing future.
With cuts to culture funds and budgets all over the world, art will suffer and, who knows, it may even end up becoming the playground of very few (ignorant yet incredibly) rich people.
Certainly the Koons X Vuitton collection perfectly represents the vapid times we are living in, these pieces are indeed extremely expensive tokens for people who may have never stepped in a museum (or if they have done so, they used paintings as colourful backgrounds for their selfies, that's why Koons added the surname of the painter on the bags...).
The collection will be available in selected Louis Vuitton stores on April 28, on time for the wealthy and vapid ones going to the Venice Biennale to show them off. In fact we should maybe launch a new sport - taking pictures of the pretentious people sporting the Koons X Vuitton accessories at the Venice Art Biennale.
It is sad to think that a fraction of what they pay for these collaboration would be enough to establish a few university grants to allow young people to study art and other creative disciplines. Yet there is a lot to laugh about this story: just watch this Jeff Koons video in which he tries to sell us the bags. According to him, these bags are art and somebody wearing them is "celebrating humanity", a rather controversial concept considering that, by splashing $4,000 on a handbag, you may just be celebrating your own self rather than the vast majority of human beings out there.
PS For the perverse logic of the fashion industry (and based on the principle "If so-and-so has done it, I must do it as well...), now it's the turn of another powerful foundation/fashion house (Prada?) to launch something designed with an artist. Bets are open. Who's gonna be the next one?