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SOME LOUIS VUITTON, SOME HAM
by Eric Troncy
translated from the French by Julie Dault

There are some questions we ask because we dont know the answers. Then, there are some we ask to confirm an intuition, to quell our own suspicions, to ensure that our spirits are not simply misguided. To hear, lets say, that there is no difference between a Vuitton bag and slice of ham, sous vide.

It was this, I confess, that drove me to ask Ugo Rondinone yesterday, on the 28th of August 2007, why he agreed to conceive of a campaign for Christmas windows in the Vuitton stores. 380 stores in total, for which he conceived a sort of tree (otherwise perfectly in line with his signature iconography), several trees per stores, and therefore, thousands of trees in total, all identical, disseminated through all of the windows, in all of the Vuitton stores; more than a thousand multiples makes for a limited edition. Take an edition of this size, put it in the showroom on a hysterical day, and a mess of say, Jeff Koons, wouldnt sell at this price, if Im correctly grasping the subtext.

"They made me an offer I couldnt refuse", Ugo responded, with a large grin and a proper Swiss accent, both expressing what could only be a large sum.

A few weeks earlier, on August 6th, I asked Carsten Hoeller why he accepted the commission to design a fitting room for an Homme Dior store. Its something that has always astounded me, that artists would accept jobs like these. When I asked Hedi Slimane, she answered simply, "It didnt cause any problems for anyone." Carsten himself was confident in the exchange: it was well paid-for and that, in addition, he was hoping for a 30 percent discount card on all Dior Homme products -- after all, they gave him a 30 percent reduction card at Prada after he had finished the exhibition at the Prada Foundation. Hes now asked twice for the Dior card, and is starting to resign himself to the fact that hes not getting one, reminding himself that it was indeed a well-paying job.

So, what do we say about the windows, the changing rooms, the boutiques, the ephemera, that its for money -- and I observed that both Ugo and Carsten had, curiously, the same embarrassed smile upon answering my questions. A little degrading, but for money. A soft form of prostitution? Naw. Why use big words? After all, when Veronique Geneste publicizes Madrange ham, its not all that different. And when Jeanne Moreau graces a soirée of promotions for Vertu telephones, that too is well-paid. Except for the fact that the presence of Jeanne at the said soiree isnt mentioned in her filmography, and that neither Veronique Genest nor Mr. and Mrs. Madrange pretend that it is one of Commissaire Lescauts better roles.

What is most curious is the attention these "duties" receive in the art world as opposed to how they are essentially overlooked in the world of cinema. Even with Nicole Kidman starring in the (very long) Chanel No. 5 commercials, few film critics will cite her participation as professionally taxing, chalking it up to a lucrative pursuit. And the infinite honesty of Karl Lagerfeld (who recently said standing before a hand bag, that all women had model bodies) means that he does not pretend that Nicole Kidman accepted the gig for anything other than monetary reasons -- he sidesteps the issue with the sort of elegance that belies the brutal reality of their agreement.

Meanwhile, there are still things to celebrate. There was a time, not long ago (of which there remain a few survivors), where decorators shamelessly recycled artists inventions (Alexander de Betak, for example, copied Bruce Naumans neons for a Victoria Secrets campaign, and further, plagiarized the luminous effects of Dominique Gonzalez-Foersters Cosmodrome for Galliano (Dior) -- this list is of course long, and the sole plagiarizer is not alone). Now artists are addressed directly; soon, the simple idea to make a work will become secondary, then futile, and finally, totally absurd (Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster seems to already be forging the path: she has almost no new work, but is appearing more and more in boutiques). Its ironic: Daniel Burens detractors long ago qualified such artists as "decorators." It was the ultimate insult. It would appear that his students have fewer qualms.