Jun Takahashi, the founder and designer behind the Japanese avant-garde label Undercover and known for his rather original tagline “We Make Noise, Not Clothes”, has become wary of art collaborations. For Takahashi, many of the collaborations he sees are mere marketing gimmicks. Consequently, the ones he chooses to engage his brand with must go deeper: “What all [our] collaborations have in common is that they make it possible to do something that we cannot do as Undercover. It’s more like friendships and shared interests, and taking advantage of each other’s resources,” he says.
Clearly for Undercover, it’s not about collaborating for ‘collaboration’s sake’. But how many art or design collaborations happen for exactly that reason? How many take something that is meant to be genuine and relevant and perhaps inadvertently, cause it to become insincere and uninspiring instead? Unfortunately, the number of less-than-original, less-than-relevant and alas, less-than-desirable art collaborations has been on the rise. Sadly, it’s a misused opportunity not only for the brands, but also for the artists and designers involved.
Normally, we like to focus our attention on dynamic and desirable art-fusion collaborations that work well. However this time, we’d like to turn our eye to a few collaborations we thought didn’t quite make it.
1800 TEQUILA & KEITH HARING: ESSENTIAL ARTIST BOTTLE SERIES
For the limited-edition capsule collection of six collaborative bottles, 1800 Tequila partnered with the Keith Haring Foundation to give a new platform to Haring’s revered socio-political work. It followed their previous release of Jean Michael Basquiat’s capsule collection. The extent of each collaboration was to wrap 1800 Tequila bottles, quite predictably, in different kinds of artwork. No wonder some of the comments posted on social media were unenthused: “I love Basquiat and Haring as much as the next guy, but can we stop using their art on the most ridiculous products? In fact, let’s stop using it on clothing while we’re at it… “ And to add to the project’s lack of originality, the 1800 Tequila press releases announced each new artist’s bottle series by only replacing the participating artist’s name with the next. Taking a too simplistic approach to an art-fusion collaboration can often result in cynicism – something to avoid we say.
ETSY & WHOLE FOODS MARKET: INGREDIENTS FOR CREATIVITY
The reusable grocery bag produced in collaboration by Whole Foods and Etsy was to promote ‘ingredients & creativity.’ Yet instead, it ended up promoting ‘staleness and predictability’, so to speak. Why not truly collaborate and rather than simply printing on a conventional grocery bag, why not reinvent a bag from scratch, or deconstruct the existing one and turn the expected into the unexpected instead? A bag with a shape that’s less traditional and with art that’s less predictable; a bag that’s double-sided, with art on the inside as well as on the outside; a bag that’s ready to go places beyond a grocery store. Wouldn’t we all have loved it?
SECOND CUP COFFEE ARTIST SERIES: CREATIVITY, OPTIMISM & COLLABORATION
The series of three artist coffee cups was a collaboration that unfortunately started with an already predictable idea. By using a conventional, all-too-familiar paper cup, the collaboration had very little room left to play with newness and originality. Instead of “holding an original” which was the series theme, it was rather about holding ‘the same old’ only in different wrapping. We’re big fans of the Second Cup brand and feel optimistic their next art collaboration will push the boundaries further.
The lesson learned? Art collaborations are not about re-packaging. No matter how attractive, it’s still just wrapping. The key ingredient to a successful art-fusion collaboration is having a strong desire to challenge conventions to promote newness and desire. No small task, we say. Art collaborations have been around for a long time now, and the most memorable ones seem so effortless – what we have to remember is that the process behind each is filled with herculean efforts to achieve originality. And it’s that sort of effort that produces a product that’s so rewarding at the end.
In our next post we’ll take a look at refreshingly different city guides. We’ll see you then.