Car salesmen push metal junk for cheap. They shrink-wrap processed matter with mortgaged metaphors and APR rates. When you listen to a car salesman, you pander to a poet that sells you what you don’t need, and convinces you that you do.
If the gallery is a car dealership, then the artist becomes the salesman. Instead of a chunk of commodity dreams and interest rates, artists offer useless objects branded with conceptual language. In Loney Abram’s curatorial project, Current Model Like New, this relationship concerns four projects that work within the aesthetics of branding. With social media, self-branding has become as instinctual as checking your phone every five minutes. The artists in Current Model Like New—Daniel Keller, Katja Novitskova, Jon Rafman, and Amalia Ulman—internalize this impulse and reflect it upon the quintessential globalized commodity—the car. The results destabilize the language of salesmanship, too easily absorbed into art and life.
With Rafman’s “Painful Car,” the Mitsubishi becomes a metaphor for male virility and female seduction. Referring to the English translation of “Itasha,” a Japanese word for a decked out anime auto, the Painful Car’s shiny surface is shrink-wrapped with animated depictions of dominated women—an all to common anime motif. The piece is pimped out and custom fit for the global misogynist, literalizing the hard-core anime aggressiveness unto a driven, hard metal shell.
Amalia Ulman’s “Buyer, Rider, Rover” proves just how monotonous capitalism can feel amidst the promise of the global, urban spectacle. Ulman takes the role of the ultimate transnational flaneuse, window-shopping in Berlin, Paris, New York, boiling all her observations into keywords and hashtags. Within social media and search engines (the drivers of specified knowledge), a keyword denotes connection and commonality. But, when imposed on the global markets of city street fashion, it only serves to underline how banal urban strolling has become.
In this context ideas too are itemized into sound bytes of knowledge. TED, the media conglomerate responsible for conference after conference of under 18 minutes nuggets of forward-thinking blabber, acts as corporate sponsor for this form of intellectual and technological advancement. Keller’s “TED Talk tag Cloud” plays back all of the most tagged TED talk keywords, demonstrating just how little TED talks actually communicate.
Novitskova’s digital collages employ the aesthetics of car ads—ambiguously American countrysides, studio lighting—juxtaposed with incongruous intrusions—all sort of dinosaurs—that are no less absurd than their commercial setting. These advertisements, like the salesmen and the artists behind them, push more than the luster metal. They sell the keywords, the diluted ideals, behind them.
Abram’s choice of a car as the exemplary global commodity is at once incredibly appropriate and un-timely. While millennials absorb the language of self-branding, they are refusing the language of the salesman. No one is buying cars anymore. For the car salesman, the sales floor pitch no longer incites aspiration within the consumer, but reeks of corporate charade. Yet for the artists in Current Model Like New, with a bit of irreverence, the language of self-branding remains in like new condition.