Above is an ad for The Standard, a line of fashionable boutique hotels, which ran in the summer issue of Du Jour, a newish publication for the uber-wealthy. It has the unique distinction of being the single most disturbing and controversial image in an exceptionally disturbing and controversial ad campaign.
For the past year, The Standard has been pursuing “selective audiences" in publications such as Fantastic Man, Apartamento, Interview and CR Fashion Book with a campaign displaying photographs from Austrian artist Erwin Wurm's series, "One-Minute Sculptures" and "How to Be Politically Incorrect." Prior to the emergence of the photo above, the most notorious ad showed a woman urinating on the rug. Another showed a woman dining in a restaurant, a man's head buried down the front of her blouse.
Commenting on the campaign to The New York Times last September, Claire Darrow Mosier, creative director at André Balazs Properties (the luxury group also owns The Mercer and the Chateau Marmont) explained that the ads were meant to integrate seamlessly with the arty content they'd be running alongside: “We want to contribute to the magazines. We don’t just want to advertise.”
Although you can see how Wurm's work, which is concerned with the boundaries between public and private space, might be relevant to a high-end hotel brand, the images were not originally created as ads. And in fact, the photographs take on a new meaning when they become advertising. The picture above defamiliarizes a common everyday object, the suitcase, by placing it in a strange context (on top of a woman's body); the same thing happens to the original photograph, when it's displayed in a magazine with a logo at the bottom. As Julia Sonenshein put it in The Gloss, it becomes a question of intent: "When the image of domestic violence exists as an artistic work, it has merit, but when a huge company uses an image like this to sell its luxury product, it almost becomes an endorsement."
The ad was first spotted by the feminist blog Make Me a Sammich, which created a Change.org petition calling on The Standard and Du Jour Media to apologize. The Standard has since replied with a statement:
“The Standard advertisement utilized an image series created by the contemporary artist, Erwin Wurm. We apologize to anyone who views this image as insensitive or promoting violence. No offense or harm was intended. The Standard has discontinued usage of this image.”