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Thursday, July 9, 2015



That an artist, author or poet might be something other than a banal conformist falls on deaf ears in the hallowed corridors at the Auckland Art Gallery. With the Billy Apple retrospective we are reminded that our world is nothing more than the humdrum of consumption, logo and capital.

The title of the exhibition ‘The artist has to live like everybody else” is playing on an ambiguity; as Wystan Curnow says ‘there is an implication of conformity…that the artist is obliged to live like everyone else.’ The artist cannot and should not question the status quo.

With the carefully ordered receipts, public relation displays of self aggrandisement and appeasement to rich elites with works titled From the Jenny & Alan Gibbs Collection; the retrospective is a demonstration of an artist that has spent the last quarter century re-branding and packaging himself into the conformity of far right neoliberal policy.

In 1962 Barrie Bates changed his name to Billy Apple. Re-branding himself he mixed with the who’s who of the 60’s and 70’s international pop art scene. By the 80’s he focused on the economics of the art world with exhibitions titled Art for Sale or transaction. Apple displayed a series of art works that were actual receipts for the payment given to the artist. In 1983 he sold a gold apple at that time the most expensive work for a NZ living artist.

His works in the 1980’s were viewed as ‘avant-garde’ and ‘revolutionary’ connecting with a technocratic elite of bankers and wealthy patrons. At the same time these art patrons led by Allan Gibbs were heavily involved with their own revolution - reshaping the socioeconomic direction of the country. In 1984 Rogernomics set the stage for the rise and growth of far right neoliberal policy that has devastated the New Zealand landscape of the past thirty years. If there were a court artist for neoliberalism Apple would make a fitting candidate.

The Apple Brand reinforces far right ideology in the flagrant use of marketing and advertising symbolism. His art is a pastiche of the advertising industries obsequious servitude to capitalism. His years working within the advertising industry gave him a mandate to ‘bring the supermarket into the gallery’

If Marketing and advertising’s aim is to make informed consumers make rational choices then the Apple brand is a success. He has connected with an industry of corporate elites that have traded and speculated in his work like hedge fund managers. The elites are informed by the same logic of deregulation seen in neoliberalism. Aesthetic critique is seen as regulation on ‘artistic freedom’. Where any regulation on aesthetics is nullified by a postmodern subservience to ‘anything goes’. It is laissez- faire art and a trade in high kitsch where elites by purchasing an Apple work with its unabashed display of wealth reinforces values of commodity and capital; essentially their own world.

We live in a world of empty logos where the idea is paramount. The idea of the brand being paramount was first expressed by the CEO Phil Night when he declared “there is no value in making things any more” Night cemented the idea that the brand is a purely speculative notion; never mind that there is no substance. The social activist and author of No Logo Naomi Klein called the new capitalist phenomenon ‘hollow corporatism.’ Think of a pair of Nike shoes failing to give anyone the hope of becoming an Olympic athlete through to the Obama, Blair brand and empty promises.

Barrie Bates and his British contemporary Damien Hirst make statements like 'Art is just a brand'. The art world - with the likes of the Billy Apple Brand at its helm - is the crowning achievement of the hollowing out of art and culture.

When you pierce the bubble of Apple’s brand what is revealed is the insecurity and vulnerability of both the man and his art. ‘I am an executive..’ he declared rather mutely on national radio. His present goal is to bring ‘art into the super market’ but sadly I think he’s been beaten to it by another brand design guru turned artist and now Vogel bread corporate cash-cow, Dick Frizzel.

Executives are our elites. The mover’s and shaker’s of corporatisation. With his reliance on militaristic order the executive is revered as the crowning achievement of reason. Decisions are to be made in an orderly, neat and authoritative manner. Emotion is seen as a weakness. So what decisions will the great executive make?

When executive decisions are made countries go to war.  Executives order drone attacks along the border of Pakistan to incinerate families. Halt urgent relief aid to refugees. Impose heavy austerity while looting the public treasury.

What all of these executives share is a colonial hubris and determination to use technocratic and obtuse language to hide behind the façade of prestige, money, power and ultimately greed.

The Apple brand speaks the same language as the corporate philanthropists, oligarchs, bankers and art entrepreneur’s that have invested in the brand of Barrie Bates and others like him. Their world to them is a crowning achievement of conforming to the stock market, trade and free market ideology. The Apple Brand is the invisible clothing used to adorn the emperors obese and fetid body.

By Art Anarcho

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