The Listener: But Is It Art? ; the Boundaries between Art and Advertising Are Becoming Ever More Blurred, as Each Aspires to the Condition of the Other. in This Week's Selection from the Best of BBC Radio, Leading Figures from Both Worlds Evaluate the Competing Claims of High and Low Culture

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Broadcaster and presenter


Director of the ICA, London


Advertising director


Founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty advertising agency


Cultural commentator


Art critic and broadcaster


Editor of the Tate magazine


Editor of `Art Review'




Professor at University of Florida, and author of `Ad Cult: The Cultural History of Advertising'


Academic, friend of Andy Warhol

SUSAN MARLING: Advertising is demanding to be taken seriously in America. Since the average adult glimpses up to 3,000 different advertisements every day, it's hardly surprising that universities in the US now teach courses on the process and interpretation of advertising. Academic libraries preserve ad agency archives as documents of our age.

In Britain, too, there's a desire to investigate what seems to be the ever-closer relationship between advertising and art, and as part of that ads have found their way into galleries. A recent show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London included a monitor showing a loop of HHCL's 90-second award-winning ad for Blackcurrant Tango. Its narrative takes us in one seamless shot from the creaky visuals of the corporate video to the widescreen Cinemascope of an epic action movie.

PHILIP DODD: The Tango ad is very clever and extraordinarily film- literate. We wanted to put an advertisement in the same space as art objects, not in order to collapse the distinction, but to invite the question, what is the distinction if both are in galleries?

SM: Not all gallery doors are open to commercial work. Tony Kaye is the enfant terrible of British advertising and one of its best- paid directors. But Kaye is best known for his protest on the steps of the Tate Gallery, where he hoped some curator might be persuaded to put on show his compelling and surreal advert for Dunlop Tyres. He didn't succeed, but he did make a point about how the value attached to works of art is often about promotion.

TONY KAYE: I was searching and exploring an area that I termed "Hype Art". I believe that the value of any work of art is totally connected to the amount of hype that that particular piece had received. For example, a piece by Van Gogh is worth more than some Italian painter who may have been more talented than Van Gogh - who was not the most outstanding of technicians, nor a colourist of any true great skill. He was a one-trick pony - just that his trick was fantastic. But because of the persona of the man and because of his life, and because of the fame of that, the work is probably the most valuable of all work.

Anyway, it was intriguing to me, since I'd made this TV commercial that I believed had an innovation about it, and I just wondered what people at the Tate would think. And I asked people as they were coming out, "Have a look at this, do you think this would command a place in there?" And everyone seemed to think it would. I thought that would get me a certain notoriety that would make me as valuable as Van Gogh without me having to cut my ear off.

SM: But advertising now has many arguments with which to scale the fortress of High Art.

TK: Marshall McLuhan said in 1976 that advertising is the great art form of the 20th century. And if you think about popular culture, it's true - in the 20th century the medium that reaches out to the people and talks to them most directly is advertising.

JOHN HEGARTY: If I was an anthropologist 500 years from now, I'd turn to advertising as a means of trying to understand society. Within 60 seconds I could give you a complete story or one aspect of the story of how society was. …