A Visual Appreciation of Fine Artists Appropriating Commercial Photography

W Magazine
A Sandy Skoglund photo of a slab of luncheon meat on a gold counter

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art didn’t have to look too deep into its collection to find source material for “Objects of Desire: Photography and the Language of Advertising.” The degree to which artists have appropriated advertising techniques to further agendas of their own—since the 1970s in particular—is so prominent that the bulk of the works on view through December 18 come from within the institution itself. Featuring 34 artists such as Barbara Kruger, Hank Willis Thomas, Sara Cwynar, and Roe Ethridge, the Rebecca Morse-curated exhibition highlights what she describes as an “under-recognized” relationship between commercial and fine art photography. And indeed, while we’re all aware of how Andy Warhol carried what he learned as an ad illustrator over to his fine art practice, you may be surprised by how many have manipulated the visual codes of capitalist marketing to their advantage in the decades since.

Divided into five categories—Stock Photography, Product and Color Photography, Image and Text, The Magazine, and Humor—the show breaks down the many ways in which the aforementioned overlap has manifested in recent memory. There are excerpts from series like Hank Willis Thomas’s “Fair Warning,” which reimagines old cigarette ads, and Sandy Skoglund’s “Food Still Lifes,” which turns imagery from commercials of yore into spotlights of the anti-fascist Yugoslavian women who fought against the Nazis. And if you’re familiar with Sarah Charlesworth, it’ll come as no surprise that the late artist is among those whose work is featured: “Objects of Desire” was also the title of the seminal posthumous ’80s series that made it clear why she was just as key to the Pictures Movement as names like Cindy Sherman.

A can’t-miss kickoff to this fall’s packed arts season, take a look inside “Objects of Desire,” newly on view at LACMA, here.


Two cherry-topped pastries on a swath of pastel pink fur

Jo Ann Callis, Untitled (Jayne Mansfield), #8 from the series “Cheap Thrills and Forbidden Pleasures,” 1993.