MY BLESSING – Absolution and Commerce

What if God were to advertise a certain brand of juicy hamburger or a sinfully expensive designer handbag or a gas-guzzling van? In their quest for what is arguably the only true global testimonial, appealing equally to people from all walks of life and cutting across all socio-demographic boundaries, Los-Angeles-based German artists Laura and Manfred Menz have set themselves this provocative question.

At first glance – the kind of brief glance we might cast in the direction of a commercial – the Menzes four-part series „MY BLESSING “ seems a highly professional advertising campaign. Their work is a striking assemblage of light boxes, illuminated in de-familiarized, well-nigh transcendent colors resembling the flamboyant, neon style of the huge advertising industry. Blaring at us from under a pink metropolitan sky, behind tacky palm leaves, against a backdrop of surreal and luminous mountainous landscapes, are the logos of the great and powerful of this world – Ford, Gucci, McDonalds, Bank of America –all with the blessing of the Almighty in person, Jesus, an international, symbolic seal of quality.

These artificial sceneries, which confirm all the American clichés about gigantic parking lots and crammed car dealerships and yet could be found in any country of the world, are eerily familiar and designed to inspire us with confidence, given the zillions of „messages“ that bombard us daily, which is the goal of any advertisement and also the inarguable basis of all religions. In the crosshairs of Laura and Manfred Menz’s art are God’s blessing as advertising message and consumption as religion of a global nation, a nation whose cultural borders have evaporated once and for all in the face of a much-debated globalization. At the same time the artists give us the hint of a religious fanaticism that is lived and practiced in no other country as openly as in the US.

Their Jesus, on the other hand, enthralling the observer with his unchanging expression of unconditional openness, comes across as almost innocent and de trop. Bearing a stylized cross in the form of a logo on his back, he dispenses grace and absolution at the same time to unscrupulous consumers. It is precisely the large transnationals – banks, auto manufacturers, luxury-goods companies – that enjoy a dubious power beyond consumption manifesting as the religion of a seemingly godless society. It is precisely those companies – credible, opaque, known to all – that have come under fire in an age of social responsibility. Yet as with any good advertising slogan, God’s blessing, wholly detached from international firms with their retail goods and brand names, can be deployed widely and is not tethered to any single product.

Advertising as an artistic device, art as a type of advertising… In an age in which perfection is worshipped above all else, in which the mass media dull the senses and advertising wields an unfathomable, intangible power, many artists have adopted a critical, questioning stance vis-à-vis the interdependence of both art and advertising as stylistic devices. What makes Laura and Manfred Menz’s work outstanding is the way they seduce and eventually deceive the viewer, who recognizes the artwork as such only on careful inspection. In the context of the worldwide economic crisis, which has sent a shudder through corporate America, this work from 2005 takes on an almost prophetic aspect. For what is left when consumers have lost their trust in an unshakeable economy and its greedy business ventures? They are flung back on their trust in God.

Karolina Landowski, freelance journalist