Art is powerful enough to alter some of the world’s most recognizable brands – a lingering message after viewing 21c Louisville’s current exhibition, Transporting Transformation: Cuba, In and Out. The show, which pulls together works by Sandra Ramos, Glenda León and Douglas Pérez to name a few, also presents a series of oil on canvas paintings by artist José Toirac entitled, A Brief History of Cuba As Told By Other Things. In the series, Toirac plays on preconceived notions surrounding brands the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Apple and Bayer by juxtaposing iconic logos with subversive messaging related to the social and political concerns of Cuba’s history. Instead of depicting diamonds underneath the Cartier logo, Toirac inserts an image of indigenous tools. In so doing, the artist reclaims the power behind the brand (known for financial success at the hand of polished jewels) and reassigns value to the modest stones depicted here. The stones are rendered resourceful tools employed not for an aesthetic or superficial purpose, but a more utilitarian one.
And what of an image featuring the prominent fashion house Yves Saint Laurent? Toirac likewise undermines the commercial success of the brand through a pointed message garnered from an image of Fidel Castro shaking hands with Pope John Paul II. The piece, entitled Opium, outwardly refers to one of YSL’s popular fragrances; however, the title more intentionally invokes Karl Marx’s famous dictum, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Toirac strategically brings to light the Cuban people’s “unfettered belief in the promise of salvation offered by religious credos, political systems and consumerism,” says 21c Museum Hotels VP, Museum Director Alice Gray Stites. The artist’s treatment of the brand erases any commodity or luxury intrinsic to the fragrance, and replaces it with social commentary which is perhaps of more consequence.
The artist also delivers a clever spin on the behemoth tech brand Apple, taking an image of revolutionary leader Che Guevara and placing it underneath the company’s widely disseminated advertising campaign headline “Think Different”. Toirac effectively reinvents Apple’s messaging, questioning the use of Che Guevara’s image as one of creativity where revolution becomes a product to be idolized.
In total the show features 11 brands including Cartier, United Colors of Benetton, Boss, Rioja, Trumpf, Pablo Picasso, Bayer, Pioneer and Yves Saint Laurent, each of which is transformed and ultimately undermined by Toirac’s careful juxtaposition of consumerism with sociopolitical concerns. The show is currently on view in Gallery Two through March 2015.