NYC AdWeek From A Comms Student Perspective

I’m attending AdWeek NYC for the first time. (That’s a career milestone, right? Adding it to my resume.)

Starting my master’s in Communications has already opened doors and my mind; I wouldn’t have known about AdWeek’s student rate had a classmate not mentioned it during a lunch break (thanks Anthony!). Both panels I attended today reinforced key concepts from a course in Organizational Strategy:

We Have A Plan, #AWXII

Concept 1: Success Isn’t Defined By Competition Alone

In a discussion about entering “the millennial music stream” moderated by a FastCompany Senior Editor, Rob Brunner, the CMO’s of Spotify (Seth Farbman) and Pandora (Simon Fleming-Wood) discussed how each company views the other as a “complementary” rather than competitor brand. Normally I would have felt this was lip service. And maybe it was. But the discussion definitely swam into Blue Ocean territory when Apple Music came up. When asked about their thoughts on Apple Music, each CMO stated if the service is a “category expansion” or an innovation, they view it as a good thing for the entire industry. The prevailing attitude was one of healthy competition and a deep mutual respect. Farbman expressed his appreciation for Apple as a brand that provides “something for others to measure themselves against,” which challenges other brands to remain clear about what makes them unique.

A love of music was tangible throughout, as Pandora’s CMO used a beautiful metaphor, comparing music to an “emotional sherpa”. He explained, “We know where we want to go throughout our day. We rely on our music to take us there.”

 

Concept 2: Social Responsibility as Strategy, Not Afterthought

The last panel I attended was called “Global Brands, Global Goals, Igniting Social Good“. We watched the newly launched #WeHaveAPlan ad for GlobalGoals.org and listened to a discussion of the campaign strategy by its co-creators, film-writer and director Richard Curtis CBE and BBH founder Sir John Hegarty. Also on stage was the CMO of Getty Images, a partner in the campaign. She introduced the panelists as “men who are not only great in their fields, but are also good men. And when great and good men come knocking on your door, you open it.” Immediately I knew I picked the best panel for that time slot.

Again, concepts taught in class were reinforced by the conversation.  Specifically that it’s no longer enough to think of Corporate Social Responsibility as merely an initiative or a campaign, tacked on as an after-thought. Rather, the most successful companies and organizations bake sustainability into their core business strategy.

Perhaps most compelling was the discussion of whether the #GlobalGoals campaign can actually produce deep, meaningful change or if it’s just glorified slacktivism – and if this even matters, so long as the Global Goals are achieved. It was a healthy debate, as another audience member asked how the campaign plans to sustain itself over the next 15 years, after the initial media push from last weekend’s Global Citizen’s concert.

The response was an honest acknowledgement by Curtis that many people in the business world consider sustainable development to be naive, liberal or too left-winged to be taken seriously. Yet…revolutions start when a few like-minded, passionate people band together. That getting a Facebook Like is better than doing nothing. And that “revolutions start on the edges, not the center”. And that “we mustn’t forget the power of broadcasting” – a quote by Sir John Hegarty I will take to heart as I navigate my career in communications.

How “Surround Audience” at The New Museum Blew My Mind Twice

Oh hey. I’m going to write a blog post about the most recent mind-blowing cultural shit I’ve seen in New York because it makes me feel like I’m getting more value for my rent.

Frank Benson, "Juliana"

Frank Benson, “Juliana”

My first impression of the New Museum back in 2007 was of dismissal; it felt too conceptual, postmodern and obnoxious. The art was not accessible; it made me feel dumb for not “getting it” – for not having any emotional response to “artwork” made of children’s toys and colored planks of wood with pieces of garbage tied to a string.

Last year I gave it another shot for Chris Ofili’s “Night and Day” exhibit. Massive, colorful, collage-like paintings and intricate, obsessive pencil drawings showcased an impressive range of materials. Infamous for his elephant dung paintings, Ofili is more than shock value and envelope-pushing. He is inspired by the human experience and his contemplation of socio-economic inequality. The New Museum redeemed itself for me with that exhibit. It was edgy, modern and relevant – but was also authentic, relatable and accessible. I appreciated it.

Then I heard about this year’s Triennial. I assumed it would include more of the earlier kind of art: conceptual, postmodern…and obnoxious. I then discovered this video online by artist and comedian Casey Jane Ellison. I highly recommend watching it and her entire series, “Touching The Art”.

I had to see for myself what was going on here. I ultimately visited the exhibit twice because I couldn’t absorb it all in just one visit. I felt more inspired and connected to not only the artwork but the concepts and motivation behind the artwork, that I only made it to two out of the four floors of artwork on my first visit. The work, collected from 51 artists from 25 countries around the world, explored how digital technology is connecting and separating us as a society more than ever.

Surround Audience intro 

My Favorite Pieces

Each floor of the exhibit was introduced with a warped, enigmatic poem. A choppy yet effortless stream-of-meta-consciousness meditation. It expresses the way we communicate today, with common anxieties, typos, symbols and misspellings marked by our text-based culture. 

Ryan Trecartin, "Time Pend"

Ryan Trecartin, “Time Pend”

 These poems saved me. They made me think “OMG someone else gets how ridiculous everything is.” I smiled while reading each one.

Indian artist Shreyas Kahle’s work left the biggest impression on me after my first visit. He explores “the distorting effect of the male gaze” as seen in the marble sculpture below: are they mountains or boobs? I love his cerebral sketches and “pseudoscientific” symbolic drawings; they evoked a Magritte-esque surrealism in a more raw expression. (“Surround Audience”, New Museum Triennial, Feb-May 2015, p. 188)

Shreyas Kahle, "Kashmir Or The Alps, It Doesn't Matter"

Shreyas Karle, “Kashmir Or The Alps, It Doesn’t Matter”

The shameless honesty and self expression of artist and comedian Casey Jane Ellison made me laugh out loud while watching a video installation of her avatar performing a standup routine. (Her YouTube interview series, which got me to see this exhibit, was playing on a flat screen TV in the museum lobby.)

Casey Jane Ellison, "It's So Important To Seem Wonderful"

Casey Jane Ellison, “It’s So Important To Seem Wonderful”

These dreamy, haunting paintings by Chinese artist Firenze Lai left me breathless. These figures with warped proportions, to express the way our relationships with others (and ourselves) are often similarly warped with modern technology. We’re always available, we’re always able to connect with everyone everywhere…yet we don’t fully feel “connected” at the same time. I think this is a universal symptom of modern life and I loved every minute I felt like there are others who feel this way – and can creatively express the ennui of the digital age.

Firenze Lai, "Tennis Court"

Firenze Lai, “Tennis Court”

Firenze Lai, "Argument"

Firenze Lai, “Argument”

Firenze Lai, "Alignment"

Firenze Lai, “Alignment”

 

The perfect mix of truth, beauty and intellect.

Art that explores how disconnected we are as society has the effect of subverting that very feeling; it makes you feel connected to the brave artists who felt compelled to visually express their own dissatisfaction with the state of things. It’s all very cerebral and conceptual, but not overly so, with just the right balance of meta-consciousness and visual aesthetic.

“Surround Audience” ends today…but good news! I bought the coffee table book of the exhibition so if we’re friends IRL I’ll let you look through it if you wash your hands and tell me how cool my apartment is both before and after looking through my cultural coffee table book of cool-ass, mind-blowing artwork.

“Beauty Is Power”: How One Woman’s Entrepreneurial Taste Redefined ‘Beauty’

helena rubinstein "beauty is power"

A strange sense of familiarity welcomed me while I stood on line for the coat check. I felt obligated to internally review the reasons that fueled my visit.

I had gone to the Jewish Museum to see the exhibit “Beauty is Power”, a look at the legacy left by Helena Rubenstein (1872-1965) on the beauty industry.

I was also there to check out the aesthetic of the museum itself, which underwent a rebranding this year by the design firm Sagmeister & Walsh.

Yet waiting on the line for the coat check, I realized another layer of significance embedded in the place itself. The lobby evokes a modern, minimalist synagogue, with a list of donor names carved into the white walls. The gift shop sells Judaica, with a modernist edge. It’s a very secular space, with delicate hints of tradition, like a mosaic made of mostly white with a few specks of rich, bright colors.

This is a very special space.

A Dramatic Entrance

The cherry on top was the free iPhone app, a custom-designed exhibit audio guide. A blended experience of art, culture and technology? Let’s do this.

Rubinstein-Mosaic

I pushed open the heavy doors to the exhibit and was immediately swirled into a slow-moving current of fellow museum-visitors: heavily perfumed ladies, decked out in furs and covered in layers of makeup and jewelry. None of them was using the iPhone app…yet their presence played a role in the experience of the exhibit.

The rooms were as luxuriously designed as the crowd they contained. Lavender walls with velvet tuffets in a deep shade of crimson produced a sense of decadence. The moment you enter the exhibit it is impossible to not feel transported into a sort of parlor, where an appreciation for style and taste is celebrated.

Eclectic Taste & Multiculturalism

interior

Rubinstein left Poland and moved to Australia where she opened her first beauty salon in Melbourne in 1903. Later, she expanded her business into London and Paris and eventually New York. “Beauty Is Power” includes over 200 objects taken from Rubinstein’s personal art collection (which included work by Picasso, Matisse and Ernst) in addition to travel keepsakes, jewelry and a few garments. Her exposure to and appreciation for a diverse aesthetic led her to expand definitions of what made something “beautiful”.

She “delighted in mingling ‘western and nonwestern works’.

She appreciated African art around the same time it was inspiring Cubist artists, like Picasso and Braques. She opened salons in Paris, whose clientele included Josephine Baker, a personification of the new “beauty” and a sort of muse for Rubinstein. In Mexico she met Frida Kahlo, with whom she felt an “immediate personal connection”.

An Entrepreneurial Spirit

fini-and-me

Left: “Two Women” by Leonor Fini (1939); Right: Self-reflection in mirror owned by H.R.

In early 20th century Western society, beauty was something to “aspire” to. It wasn’t something you could capture; it was an ideal against which you would measure yourself. The wealthy and the powerful determined what was in style, and makeup was deemed appropriate only for actresses and prostitutes.

Rubinstein challenged this by championing the cosmetic use of makeup for the everyday woman – as an expression of femininity, power and individualism. She democratized beauty, celebrating it as limitless and undefined.

Rubinstein stated,

“There are no ugly women – only lazy ones”.

Rubinstein built an empire selling products and beauty advice to women everywhere. She envisioned salons as places of education, where women could study color, makeup application techniques, as well as general health and beauty advice. Her line of cosmetics, which was eventually bought by Lancôme, included the first waterproof eyeliner, and the introduction of the mascara wand.

My grandmother, who has a strong eye for the aesthetic and is herself an avid art collector, recently shared that in sixty years of marriage, “Your grandfather never saw me without my makeup on.” Nana stated this as a proud declaration, describing a daily decision she made out of a place of strength.

Rubinstein’s eclectic style and taste, cultural sensitivity and business prowess made her a key player – almost a composer – in the symphony of 20th century beauty, art and fashion.

The “Beauty Is Power” exhibit is on view at the Jewish Museum in New York City through March 22, 2015.

Bright, Floating Buses of Skeletons: The Paradox of the East Village

Rick Prol-1

Part of the charm of the East Village lies in the paradoxical nature of its identity. It’s defining characteristic is the struggle to maintain its 1980’s, “authentic” version of itself. There’s this angst associated with the nostalgia of the area. Veteran storekeepers and residents proclaim “…it’s not the same anymore” or “…it’s changed so much, I don’t recognize it.” This mournful description has become part of the neighborhood’s identity, and a badge of honor worn by card-carrying tasters and makers of the original neighborhood flavor. The result is an interesting mosaic of art, culture and attitudes quite distinct to the area between 1st and 14th Street, from 1st Avenue to the East River.

The Dorian Grey Gallery, a tiny space on 9th Street, is currently showing works by Rick Prol – dubbed the “Veteran of Gothic Angst” by Art in America. The exhibition presents a dark, macabre look at the neighborhood from above and within. Floating buses of skeletons amidst a Manhattan sky and cramped, decrepit one-room apartments paint a picture that’s as off-putting as it is romantically-nostalgic…and pride-inducing. The scenes are depressing yet vibrant at the same time. It’s an interesting juxtaposition and captures the old East Village brilliantly.

We’re all headed on a floating bus to death. Yet we are doing so in one of the coolest, most culturally-influential neighborhoods in one of the world’s most culturally-influential cities. Yes, there’s a 7-Eleven on 11th and Avenue A, but there’s also Empire Biscuit 2 blocks north, with its friendly husband-wife pair serving an exotic menu of sweet and savory biscuit-sandwiches, with an impressive variety of cheeses and jellies (try the Snuggaboo!). Yes, the Annual Tompkins Square Park Dog Halloween Parade now has a commercial sponsor (Purina), but it makes for an even bigger celebration of the creative and compassionate dog-lover community, that it’s hard to see a downside beyond the principle. Artists like Rick Prol preserve the paradox of the East Village, and its struggle between mourning and appreciation for the old and the new, preservation and flux. At least, that’s my interpretation. Live in the area? Would love to hear your take.


dorian2 dorian3 dorian4 dorian5

The Brooklyn Night Bazaar: Tagging Nostalgia

Brooklyn Night Bazaar

At the Brooklyn Night Bazaar the other night, I traveled to Thailand, Berlin and Israel. Three places I’ve actually visited relatively recently. You walk into this warehouse in Williamsburg, where illuminated paper lanterns on the ceiling offer a warm glow to a large, one-room space. Aisles of vendors extend back into the darkness.

A dark-light miniature golf course with celebrity cardboard cut-outs sits to your left. To the right is an art installation in another room with ping-pong tables in the middle. “Never-ending trails of color” create a 4-wall, floor-to-ceiling graffiti piece by Brazilian artist Raphael a.k.a. SLIKS. His work comes from a lifelong sense of loneliness. Puma sponsors the exhibit, and there are glass cases of brightly-colored sneakers which add a dash of corporate flavor to the site. Instagram is in full use, with iPhone users snapping photos from creative angles. They’re tagging photos of tagging. How meta.

Night Markets in Thailand

I felt pretentious telling my friends how much the place reminded me of the night markets in Thailand; in Chang Mai, where the biggest night market stretches for what feels like miles; or in Pai, where the night market is more manageable in size but not in terms of the endless variety of creative wares, produced by artisans and craftsman you hope are local. (It was a running joke, seeing the same fabric elephant coin purse at literally every market and souvenir store across 3 different South Eastern countries. The first time I encountered the elephant, the woman selling it said “I make, I sew.” My travel companion and I loved commenting on how well that woman must have been doing, to have such a robust distributor network.)

Bars in Berlin  

A beer garden shoots off the main room, where low wooden tables sit facing a white wall loosely covered in black-outline illustrations. The casual intersection of art and alcohol and the reminded me of a 5-story place in Berlin calledTachlas. The place is covered floor to ceiling in decades of graffiti, with 5 different types of music on each floor and a sand-covered outdoor beer garden on the bottom level.

Street Art in Tel Aviv

We left the bazaar and walked down a quiet street. The light of a street lamp illuminated a drawing of a crouched, girl-like figure done on the side of the 2nd story of a building – and for a second I felt like I was in Jaffa. The quiet road, the ubiquity of art in odd places, the subdued yet powerful presence of an underground art scene brought me back to the backstreets of industrial, southern Tel Aviv.

Brooklyn Street Art

These comparisons and memories and nostalgia all feel good and bad at the same time. I make these comparisons yet don’t know for what purpose, or what to do with them. My gut reaction is to share them with others, yet I instantly feel pretentious; “Have any of you ever been to Thailand?” is a question usually met with silence.

The silence echoes inside my own head as I ask myself what to do with those comparisons and memories. Tagging them – on Instagram and my blog – makes them seem captured and categorized.