Image Versus Reality

MFA exhibits shatter two things that America loves: Its myths and its marketing

Inspired by such venerable sponsorships as the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the SUITS project was a massive marketing effort. For those who somehow missed the hype, here's the outline of the project: The Art Guys had Todd Oldham design the suits and Selven O'Keef Jarmon design the overcoats, shirts and ties. Companies who coughed up the cash got their logo elegantly embroidered on the suits. The Art Guys vowed to wear the suits for an entire year to every public event they attended. Ad fees were calculated based on visibility. Through unrelenting letters, conference calls, e-mails and meetings, the Art Guys contacted more than 800 companies to secure 56 ads -- 45 short of their goal. They managed to parlay the project into a documentary by Cool Films and a Harry N. Abrams book. The suits and related ephemera were purchased by the Museum of Fine Arts and are on display.

The best part about the show is the "Wailing Wall," a collection of 62 rejection letters from corporations -- those that bothered to respond. Here is the real meat of the project; it's like cutting a peephole into the guts of corporate America. Corporate image and promotion thereof is the dominating concern. The letters share a similar language of rejection: "You realize the quantity of submissions…" and "Although it appears to be a unique project…" One surreal response reads: "While we appreciate the fact that the project would reach a significant number of Titleist and FootJoy Worldwide golfers…" The letters provide you with visions of bureaucracy as multiple people from the same company offer duplicate rejections. McDonald's rejected the Art Guys because the proposal was "unsolicited" and came from someone "not part of the McDonald's family." Gee, maybe they should have done a stint flipping burgers.


"Robert Frank: A Retrospective from the Collection"
Through Sunday, October 14, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For more information, call 713-639-7300.

"SUITS: The Clothes Make the Man"
Through Sunday, November 4, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For more information, call 713-639-7300.

Our response to marketing oversaturation runs the gamut from indifference to trashing Starbucks during WTO meetings in Seattle to tattooing the Nike swoosh on our arm. Sometimes coping with "America Inc." is like riding a runaway train. Do you grit your teeth and hang on, or jump off at the Canadian border? Do you attempt, against the odds, to stop it, or -- to paraphrase the immortal Clayton Williams -- do you sit back and try to enjoy the ride?

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