Whitehot Magazine

January 2012: Corporations are People Too @ Winkleman Gallery

Ian Davis, Conversation, 2011. Acrylic on Panel, 24" x 18", Courtesy of the artist and Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York.

Corporations Are People Too
Winkleman Gallery, New York
January 4- February 4, 2012

Corporations Are People Too is a group exhibition of artwork about corporations. The show takes its name from a remark made by Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney. The 10 artists in the show add personal perspectives to the global protest against corporations.

Ian Davis contributes two paintings of men in black suits tiled across the canvas. The mob of business men, raising their hands in unanimous agreement, or pledging allegiance to an empty podium as they wait for a conference, is an unsettling depiction of pack mentality. The simple New Yorker cartoon style of the artwork paints the characters as a sea of dumbfounded drones.

Chris Dorland offers a room of mixed media experiments. A video plays on loop. It’s the type of vaguely futuristic commercial that Sony might have run in the 1980’s, but there’s no product advertised, just shots of buildings, bodies of water, and jubilant people – the type of imagery used in ads to create an air of being global. The fake commercial recalls the marketing tactics of corporations that are so large that they don’t advertise specific products, electing to create a sense of power through images and sound and then display their logo. Across from the video are three identically sized canvases, each a painting of a logo. The made-up logos look almost tribal but don’t symbolize or illustrate anything. The “3-piece set” of paintings seems to draw a comparison between the sale of artwork and the sale of products.

The main focus of Corporations Are People Too, is Yevgeniy Fiks’s Lenin for Your Library? – a conceptual piece consisting of 34 printed letters received from corporations. The letters are responses to a boilerplate letter the artist mailed to each corporation. Fiks’s letter reads:

“Please find enclosed a book by V. I. Lenin. I would like to donate it to your library. I would greatly appreciate a note confirming the receipt of this book. Looking forward to hearing from you shortly.”

The letter and book by Lenin were sent to corporations including CVS, Nike, and General Motors. In sending a book about socialism to juggernauts of capitalism, the artist made a blatant statement. However, it’s amusing to see how the corporations responded to the gift. Most of them returned the book with a canned response about not owning a company library. Some of them simply thanked Fiks for the book and promised to add it to their library. Disney rejected the book, explaining their stringent policy of not looking at any submitted materials whatsoever.

A few of the corporations tried to affect a friendly tone in their response. One representative said they added the book to their library and that it was already checked out. Another said they placed it on a shelf for employees to read but “so far no takers.” Unsurprisingly, none of the responses commented on the book’s content. The letters make it ambiguous whether the corporations got Fiks’s meaning. However, odds are some of the recipients understood it, ignored it, and issued a pre-written response as per company policy.

Yevgeniy Fiks, Lenin for Your Library? (Coca Cola), 2005-2006. Mixed media,
Courtesy of the artist and Winkleman Gallery, New York.

Chris Dorland, untitled (surrogate), 2011.Enamel on linen, 18” x 18”, Courtesy of the artist.


Dan Tarnowski

Dan Tarnowski has published reviews of culture, and several chapbooks of his poetry. He lives in Brooklyn.

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