Contemporary art, the cash cow

 Paris  |  2 October 2017  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

One hundred milligrams of calcium per portion and only 19% fat…this is The Laughing Cow. Something of a cult- and this year it is Belgian artist Wim Delvoye to design the collector’s edition box. Previewing at the FIAC, at only 5 euros, it’s the most affordable piece of contemporary art at this year’s fair.

With four hundred million consumers worldwide, two hundred and forty portions eaten each second, The Laughing Cow is the gold standard amongst amateur cheese lovers; the quirky triangular cheese, imprinted with an image of a jovial, earring-clad cow is eaten by half of all families with children under the age of fifteen. It would seem that there is no shortage of milk on the contemporary art scene. Cheese company Bel Group has taken the bull by the horns and launched their ‘collector’s box’, a limited edition by one of the biggest names on the international art scene.

So what’s the concept? An upcoming contemporary artist will create a cardboard box with 24 portions of cheese bearing the unmistakeable little red zipper of the sometimes irritating, but essentially loveable brand. Combine this with a good dose of marketing and a worldwide zeal for spreadable cheese, and you have an industrial commodity where a supermarket mainstay meets the fine arts – a gentle nod to Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans. Between Pop art and bovine humour, iconic packaging has been reinstated in the canon of contemporary cool, and The Laughing Cow’s rounds of triangular cheese pieces in salute-worthy packaging is enjoying visible influence on artists.

Hans-Peter Feldmann, German artist and passionate image collector, was the first commissioned by Bel Group to create a collectors box. He was followed in consecutive years by Thomas Bayrle, best known for his work with serial repetition techniques, and Jonathan Monk, a British post-conceptual artist tending to use quotations in his work, who presented his glaringly ironic collectors box at last year’s FIAC. Continuing with the tradition, this year Belgian artist Wim Delvoye has been chosen to design the collector’s edition box. Delvoye is best-known for his pig tattoos and his installation piece ‘Cloaca’, a peculiar ‘poop machine’ featuring a giant intestinal tract- which really works. Represented by Perrotin Gallery, Wim Delvoye is manically productive and possesses one of the largest collections of Laughing Cow labels in the worlds.

Combining avant-garde and mainstream

So who is hiding behind the label of the iconic soft cheese? Which food industry genius or dairy marketer has managed to milk such a branding coup? The answer is one who will be concealed on the back of the fourth collectors box, which will be revealed on October 18th in the conservatory at the Grand Palais, Paris; Bel Group (sales revenue of 2.9 million in 2016), or Bel Group’s ‘artistic laboratory’, the aptly named Lab’Bel. This creative platform has been under the direction of Laurent Fievet and Silvia Guerra since it opened in spring 2010. As the press releases states, ‘it is a laboratory of ideas and innovations that aim to support and to contribute to the development of artistic creation’. It is essentially a brand strategy like any other- except for one small detail: an impertinent attitude. It’s uniquely personal tone is simultaneously quirky and creative as well as relatable to everyone, differentiating Lab’Bel from other players in the field of French cultural sponsorship. Chic, contemporary and refreshing, it’s with these values in mind that in 2014 Lab’Bel began working with a series of contemporary artists, with a different artist each year invited to put their own spin on The Laughing Cow’s famous packaging, ahead of celebrating the brand’s 100th anniversary in 2021.

According to artistic director Silvia Guerra, ‘these original propositions keep up-to-date and give longevity to the relationships that artists have always had with the brand’. Looking back to where it all began, The Laughing Cow’s logo was actually created at the beginning of the 1920s by the illustrator Benjamin Rabier, and the company has continued to work with multiple artists ever since, from Albert Dubout to Paul Grimault. The soft cheese packaging has quite simply become a cult object. This year Wim Delvoye’s packaging will offer two options: to be used or to be preserved purely as a collectors object. In both cases the project’s curator Michael Staab considers that ‘from now on, both the exhibition and artistic critique has a place at the dinner table’.

As was the case last year, the 2017 collector’s box will be on sale for an unbeatable price of 5 euros, making this customised piece of contemporary art the cheapest at the whole fair…

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