Co.Design

Advertising In The Hands Of 21st-Century Art Freaks

What would ads look like if the industry was run solely by young artists working today? Compelling. And very weird.

When Marshall McLuhan called advertising the 20th century’s greatest art form, Ad Book probably isn’t what he had in mind.

The e-book, compiled by the Brooklyn-based art collective BFFA3AE, contains nothing but advertisements, though throughout the book’s 231 pages the very concept of "advertising" is stretched nearly to the breaking point. The collection includes contributions from galleries, a few websites, and other groups, though most come from individual artists, ostensibly advertising themselves. In some cases, the ads reference shows or websites or Twitter handles; in others, they’re quite simply about getting a name out there. Some of the contributions don’t really bother to promote anything at all.

Unsurprisingly, the ads themselves are about as far from glossy Condé Nast fare as you can get. Where those ads are designed to go down smooth, with every potential snag airbrushed out of existence, here the opposite aesthetic prevails. Garish colors and bizarre graphics assault you at every turn. A good number of the ads borrow from the visual palette of the early web, as is currently fashionable, including some that are animated (it’s an e-book after all), lurching from frame to frame. On the whole, it’s a messy thing.

Which isn’t to say it’s ineffective as a collection of advertisements. In fact, just the opposite is the case. Every few pages here has something that stops you in your tracks—a quality any good ad aspires to. Though here, a good deal of time, even when you do stop, it can be tough to figure out what or who, exactly, the thing you’re looking at is promoting.

But that’s fine. As much as Ad Book is a collection of advertisements, it’s also just a document—a fascinating visual chronicle of what a specific network of artists were interested in at a certain point in time. The creators have suggested that it might be the first in a series of these time capsules; as one explained in an interview with Rhizome, "I would actually compare it to Disney’s Fantasia, which was originally intended to be re-released each year with some new segments mixed with some of the segments from the version before. Had they gone with this plan, it would have been a showcase for the evolution of the medium and different creators at that given time, contrasted with what and who came before."

In conjunction with the e-book’s release, the works were featured in an exhibition at the Gloria Maria Gallery in Milan, where ads were displayed in rotation on wall-mounted flat screens. In essence, an ad for the ads themselves. Clever.

Download the book in the iTunes Book Store for $5

[Hat tip: Triangulation]

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2 Comments

  • Honest_Miss

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding the point, but I feel like this is a great example of why client and 'non-creative' input is so important to the field. Maybe its just the case with these specific pieces, but to me not a single one makes any sense.

    Clients and the like make us step out of our singular box, and force us to learn how to communicate in a multitude of ways. The result is highly inventive work. In my opinion, the work we see now is considerably better than what we're seeing here.

    I'm not discrediting the book as an exercise, I just feel like it made a completely different point for me.

  • DMC

    I would say you've misunderstood the point. 

    Most of these made sense to me, or at least, I 'got' what each one was saying, but therein lies the difference between art and advertising. Art uses mystique as a method and cloaks any message, if there is one, in layers of subtlety. Advertising is, on the other hand, banal, obvious and low-thinking. Advertising thinks of things and people in 'boxes', whereas art doesn't even begin to recognise that modal and limited way of thinking. Advertising, no matter how creative or inventive it is, has a goal. Art does not bother itself with such things, the art is the goal in and of itself.I have to completely disagree that client and 'non-creative' input results in inventive work too. It results in banality, conformity and generalised language.

    Art is a true wonder of the human mind, advertising is a way of selling things.
    To call it art is genuinely ignorant and disgusting.