How Advertising Infiltrated the Art World

Creative Review

A new exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art examines the ever blurring lines between advertising and art photography, and how the two worlds have influenced each other.


“As platforms shifted with the advent of online art viewing, digital publications, and the arrival of social media, commercial and art images butted up against one another in new ways. In this arena it became increasingly more difficult to differentiate the two,” writes curator Rebecca Morse in the catalogue of her latest exhibition, Objects of Desire: Photography and the Language of Advertising, on show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) from this weekend.


As Morse’s words suggest, Objects of Desire delves into the relationship between fine art and commercial photography, focusing on artists from the 1970s to the present day whose work directly intersects with advertising. Nearly all the image-makers included are from North America, where consumerism has had the most impact, and some of them are very critical of it – think Adbusters’ anti-capitalist culture-jamming, for example, or Martha Rosler’s socialist-feminist sloganeering. But as Morse points out, the division between art and commerce has never been clear. Each side has always learned from the other, and the lines are now more blurred than ever.


“One of the things that originally interested me in this topic was the way that contemporary artists absorbed commercial tendencies for their own work,” she tells me. “Scrolling through Instagram when they first put up advertisements, I was struck that it was at times difficult to differentiate between the two – art photographs and advertisements.