Advertising That Sure Is Art

Talk about media-neutral: Kao Brands has paid an undisclosed fee to appear on four sides of a cube-shaped sculpture by Keith Tyson, a British artist whose 45-piece exhibition titled “Geno Pheno” has been showing at the PaceWildenstein gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea district for about a week. The ads were placed by Richard Kirshenbaum, a longtime art collector and co-chairman of Kao ad agency Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners, at the request of the gallery.

“My job is to make sure they’re front and center with popular culture … and having your brand show up in a museum or an art gallery is not exactly a bad thing,” says Kirshenbaum. The idea behind the piece, called Chameleon, was to create a work of art that reflects society’s changes through advertising, says Andrea Glimcher, director of communications for the gallery. When Kao’s yearlong contract is up, the company will have an opportunity to renew or pass along the space to another advertiser, Glimcher says.

It may not be the kind of return on investment that art collectors are usually looking for, but considering the gallery’s asking price—$85,000, according to sources—the anonymous buyer may be looking for any and all cash-back incentives. Glimcher would not disclose how much the buyer paid.

Tyson won England’s prestigious Turner Prize in 2002. If marketers know him at all, it might be for a piece he did several years ago in which he cast the entire contents of a Kentucky Fried Chicken menu in lead.