Art vs. Commerce

Photo source: Flickr user ATHLETE Director Dave

Ever since the beginning of advertising as we know it today, designers and fine artists have been jumping back and forth between fine art and commercial art. Andy Warhol started his career doing illustrations for advertising in the 1960’s. More recently, street artist and graphic designer Shepard Fairey rocketed to nationwide fame with his iconic Barack Obama poster. But even with all the crossover, there is still somewhat of a divide between the two disciplines – with commercial artists often labeled as sell-outs and fine artists viewed as snobs.
A couple years back, MOCA exhibited Takashi Murakami and set up a Louis Vuitton shop in the middle of the exhibit hocking handbags and limited edition prints of the designs, with sales totaling as much as $4-million. Murakami is known for blurring the boundaries between fine art and commercial art, and he doesn’t hide the fact that his visual style has become a brand in itself. As it turned out, the $6-10,000 prints were simply flattened versions of the much less expensive handbags, and one of the buyers of the prints is not happy – he has filed a lawsuit alleging fraud.

But anyone familiar with Murakami’s work understands his playful dance between high and low art. So in this instance, what’s the difference between a framed painting and a branded print? Is the joke on the guy who bought the print, or Louis Vuitton – or both? Or are we dealing with an artist who has managed to touch on a sensitive nerve in the ongoing battle of art and commerce?

Murakami lawsuit story from the LA Times