Homage to Duchamp on the streets

They appear on trees, pavements and cash machines - subversive little labels mocking gallery culture. What's going on?
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The Independent Online

To stop dead in the middle of Soho in central London and stare at the pavement on a Friday afternoon is a brave act - what with everyone jostling and pushing. But I couldn't help it, there it was on the ground: "Pavement 1962; concrete slabs, cement, shoe prints, dog excrement, chewing gum. 8000 x 15050 x 10 cm." Someone was labelling Soho's pavements as art - probably the prank of a Goldsmiths student. And then at the end of the sticker, a tagline: "britart.com - art you can buy". An ad! The coloured spot for the dot in "dotcom" was even a sly reference to Damien's own spot paintings. Since September labels have been appearing on bridges (Bridge 1977; bricks, steel, railway line. 60545 X 1025cm. Railway line: kind donation of Railtrack PLC,) junction boxes, then walls, fences, cashpoints - even trees. The only thing missed was doing a Duchamp and tagging urinals. It's a very clever ad campaign - I soon started stealing the stickers.

To stop dead in the middle of Soho in central London and stare at the pavement on a Friday afternoon is a brave act - what with everyone jostling and pushing. But I couldn't help it, there it was on the ground: "Pavement 1962; concrete slabs, cement, shoe prints, dog excrement, chewing gum. 8000 x 15050 x 10 cm." Someone was labelling Soho's pavements as art - probably the prank of a Goldsmiths student. And then at the end of the sticker, a tagline: "britart.com - art you can buy". An ad! The coloured spot for the dot in "dotcom" was even a sly reference to Damien's own spot paintings. Since September labels have been appearing on bridges (Bridge 1977; bricks, steel, railway line. 60545 X 1025cm. Railway line: kind donation of Railtrack PLC,) junction boxes, then walls, fences, cashpoints - even trees. The only thing missed was doing a Duchamp and tagging urinals. It's a very clever ad campaign - I soon started stealing the stickers.

Mother, the advertising agency that brought us plastic football hooligan kits for the last World Cup and the one behind campaigns for Typhoo, Batchelor cup noodles, Kiss and Magic, created the labels. It was hired by britart.com, which is selling art online and wanted an irreverent ad agency to convey the point. Britart approached Mother at a time when dot-coms were desperate for ad campaigns to spend their earnings, and internet money was flowing into agencies faster than champagne at a private view

Mother took the campaign because it believed in what britart was doing, even if there was a puny budget. But that budget limitation led to the campaign's elegance and simplicity.

Mother wanted to make fun of art world "bollocks", as Stef Calcraft, the agency's co-founder calls it, to show that anyone could buy art, and thus make art-buying accessible if not to the masses at least to more people (the ads are currently only in London). Thus Mother and britart both wanted to demystify capital-A art by sending it up. Because, Calcraft says, "most people think it's ridiculous - all private views, Champagne and hob-nobbing with the who's who."

So the agency took the art world's language and applied it to all sorts of things that obviously weren't art. Hence the stickers Mother calls "artilisers" because they turn the everyday into art and question just what is art, much like Duchamp did with his scandalous urinal decades before. Now Mother and britart are also producing "private view glasses" with postage stamp-sized paintings pasted to the lenses, an "art wank CD" that takes the kinds of conversations you hear about art at private views and translates them into plain English, and an "art pencil" that riffs on that my-kid-could-do-that notion so often heard around modern art. With the pencil, Calcraft says triumphantly, "everything you make will be art!", and in October the campaign will move on to bus tickets and taxi receipts. Just look in your hand, you might soon be holding some A-R-T. And who's to say what britart sells on its site will not be the genuine article?

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