The Professor: Self-Portrait in Products and Brands

[from way back in 1988 ashley bickerton's brand-based, logocentric "tormented self-portrait"]

[one of the savviest works of art from the 1980s, ashley bickerton’s brand-based, logocentric “tormented self-portrait”]

In 1988, The Professor saw the work of Ashley Bickerton at Sonnabend Gallery on West Broadway in SoHo, NYC. It was a revelation. It was neither painting nor sculpture in the strict[est] sense of the terms but something else. Something hybrid and good. Something that included both two-dimensional paint applications and three-dimensional sculptural details matrixed together into a kind of industrial collage; hardness attached to hardness finished to a high level of polish.

To The Professor, in one fell corporate swoop he redefined what the phrase “self portrait” might mean for the media-savvy, personal-identity-fixated next generation. Bickerton was smart about how he used his dumb commercial materials in the same way that Mike Judge was smart about how he used Beavis & Butt-head as his material. Bickerton was subsequently able to combine the low culture of hyperconsumerism with Pop Art’s ironic take on icons and then bring the ensuing results to a high-art, graphic design-like resolution.

Placed in its late-1980s time frame, “Tormented Self-Portrait” tells a truth that was revelatory then, and still relevant now. Namely, that we construct who we are, and we do it by selecting certain products and brands over all of the other products and brands available to us. Each of us, therefore has our own composite corporate identity that may or may not be identical to anyone else’s. When approached from the perspective of a pattern to be connected and reconnoitered with, these composites point to a foreground of Readymades and Manuf®actured objects and a background of apparent choice and probably illusory liberation. No wonder The Professor likey!

If The Professor were to identify his personal signifiers, they would include: Alessi; Apple, BMW; Boston Red Sox; Bowers & Wilkins; Heath Ceramics; Herman Miller; Heywood-Wakefield; J Crew; Lay’s Potato Chips; Legal Seafood, Levis; LL Bean; Loro Piana; Moleskine; Nike; Patagonia; Ricola; Shawnee; and Twinings—and that’s why they call him The Professor.



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