Ads for art’s sake

For an industry blessed with several geniuses, the biggest budgets and the largest egos, the art of advertising hangs infrequently on gallery walls. But its power is undeniable – just as designers can name record sleeves that pulled them into their profession, art directors cite old Benson & Hedges layouts that did the same. These are images etched deep into our collective cultural consciousness, whether we like what they stand for or not. Presumably, this is what the upcoming Advertising Art exhibition is trying to redress, and on paper it ticks all the requisite boxes. Traditional photography stalwarts like John Claridge and Barry Lategan mix with more recent art directors like Paul Belford and Dave Dye. Living legends like Sir John Hegarty are also involved. To my semi-tutored eye, the work of Nadav Kander and Irving Penn will always remain peerless. But while I appreciate the still-life photography skills on show, how will they appear when neatly framed on white gallery walls? These are seminal images that hung in the most public of galleries – huge poster sites across the country, or on the back covers of our favourite magazines. How they will look re-contextualised as ‘art’ remains to be seen – the Richard Avedon portrait of Iman was a breakthrough at the time, but borders on the tasteless now. This may be an exhibition best viewed as cultural history rather than the ‘art’ that was originally intended.Advertising Art is at The Chambers Gallery, London EC1 from 14 May to 13 June. Michael Johnson is design director of Johnson Banks

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