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A Historic Throwback of Brands Loving Art
First in a Series of Corporate Art Patronage: Mural Lash Ups
Entertainment 03 Jan 2019

The murky courtship between artists and the various corporations and luxury brands that thirstily seek these creatives out is hardly news.
After all, artists and their sugar daddy patrons date way back. Ancient history back. There’s then of course well-known instances of patronage. The European Renaissance has been highly documented by a wide assortment of professional historians and amateur, selfie stick wielding tourists across the globe. Monoliths like the Roman Catholic Church, nobility, and wealthy merchants have all splurged on decadent works. Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait (1434) Flemish portraiture, Raphael’s The School of Athens (1511) Italian fresco, and the marble rendition of Pietà (1500) painstakingly sculpted by Michelangelo at the ripe age of 25-years-old, yep 25 — weird flex, but mmkay — are just a few examples of the symbiotic relationship between artist and patron.
In the contemporary context, corporations and luxury brands have thrown their top hats in the ring, vying to work with artists both living and dead.
The major corporate institutions that have been active participants in the art world between the 20th and 21st-Century are frequently labelled the “New Medicis.” An association that comes with quite a bit of baggage when taking into account the Medici family’s cut-throat disposition.
This article elaborates on commissioned murals and is the first in a short series of ‘make it or break relationships’ between the “New Medicis” and the artists they harvest…mawahahaha.

Image via Tumblr
At first it might seem uncharacteristic, even strange for corporate money driven entities to feel so enticed by the art world and art market. Sure, there is the potential for some money to be made; But, why was Goldman Sachs calling up an abstract painter like Julie Mehretu to doll up the walls of their New York headquarters in 2010? What did the investment banking and financial services titan hope to gain? The answer: soft power.
Artists — the popular ones anyway — have cultural cachet. Cultural cachet in turn becomes cultural capital, which brands can gladly transform into dollars and cents. This is objectified cultural capital — like walking around in next season Alexander Wang or stunting in a pair of limited edition Air Jordans. You’re letting everyone know that your tapped into trends and have the means to flaunt.
Companies, like Goldman Sachs, don’t go around frivolously spending money on eighty feet long by twenty-three feet high murals merely to zhoosh their office decor. Keep in mind this commission took place in 2010, on the tail end of a massive economic recession. They do it to attract soft power and demonstrate that their dominance extends far beyond their particular field — in Goldman’s case — finance. They do it to demonstrate that they too play a hand in shaping culture.
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Julie Mehretu’s “Mural” Photograph: Diane Bondareff / AP.
You might be quick to call Mehretu a “sell out!” Or unleash some level of derision for the artist — or any artist for that matter — agreeing to work with “the Man.”  Mehretu, though, explained her reasoning perfectly.
In the March 29th, 2010 issue of The New Yorker the painter said:
“‘I don’t see it [Goldman Sachs] as an evil institution, but as part of the larger system we all participate in. We’re all part of it. And, anyway, for me it was about making something—it was about the art.’ As she had said earlier, ‘I was more concerned about participating in the legacy of painting. You just hope it will feel O.K. over time.’”
The “it” Mehretu talks about is ostensibly refers to cultural capital. And, with respect to the painter, uhhh…also girlfriend’s gotta eat. So there ain’t no shame in the game in taking on jobs and cashing checks (within reason, of course). Dare we forget the immortal words of one of the greatest economist of our time [SEE BELOW]:
Money GIF - Honeybooboo Dolla Holla GIFs
Image via Tumblr
As you can imagine, things don’t always run so smoothly between an artist and the corporation that decides to commission him or her — especially, if that corporation hasn’t done its research.
It might have done the Rockefellers some good to read-up on Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, before bringing him on to paint a massive mural in the middle of the family’s eponymous, Manhattan center. Guess there’s no amount of money that can buy you ample foresight.
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Photograph: MXCity
Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads (1933) fresco ended up coming across as a subtle “fuck you,” to the American tycoon family. The Mexican leftist had already been given a hard time for taking on the project to begin with by his politically minded friends. So, in true art-meets-angst fashion, Rivera’s mural is chock-full of pro-communist imagery. Surprise, surprise, the Rockefellers were not pleased. Anything, you know, pro-communist, is naturally going to furrow brows and ruffle feathers among a wealthy American industrialist family and their capitalist loving cohorts.  
Nelson Rockefeller — the family’s go-to for the art direction of the Rockefeller Center — didn’t take kindly to the artist’s decision to include Vladimir Lenin and a Soviet Russian parade within the mural. Nor did Rivera take kindly to Nelson’s demands to cut it out. Tomato, Tomahto. They called it off quicker than Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson’s engagement. Rockefeller had Rivera’s mural plastered over before the paint had dried. Ouch. Rivera couldn’t resist a not so low-key clapback and recreated the mural, which now resides in Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes.
There’s then of course famed American painter, Mark Rothko, widely regarded for his role in the New York AbEx movement and for his use of the Color Field style. Rothko’s signature, large-scale, color block paintings have even made it to the big screen in film and tv like the hit-American television series Mad Men. Prior to his works’ on screen-cameos, Rothko agreed to complete a series of large scale murals for the Seagram beverage company in 1958.
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Photograph: Scene from Television Series:  Mad Men
The plan was for several paintings to be displayed within the new bad and bougie Four Seasons restaurant in New York City. A restaurant where insider shop talk and three martini lunches would be enveloped by Rothko’s “Red.” Red (1959) ended up being a series of color block paintings in a variety of dark and muted palettes. It turns out, however, that Rothko was just as concerned with the palettes of his color scheme as he was for the palates of the restaurant’s guests. Telling Harper’s Magazine publisher, John Fischer:
“I hope to ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room,” the artist said. “If the restaurant would refuse to put up my murals, that would be the ultimate compliment. But they won’t. People can stand anything these days.”
The Mark Rothko Foundation and Pace Gallery.
Photograph: The Mark Rothko Foundation and Pace Gallery.

Rothko ended up making approximately 40-paintings for the Seagram’s commission. For obvious reasons none of said paintings were displayed within the restaurant as was previously planned. In breach of contract he took his morose attitude over to the Pace Gallery. The unappetizing color blocks, though still known as ‘the Seagrams canvases’, were proudly displayed across the gallery’s walls for a period just shy of a decade.
Stay tuned for more noteworthy artist v. corporations and luxury brands collabs and mix-ups. In our next installment of Brand Patronag€.

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