Michael Wang, PGUN
I saw Michael Wang’s recent “Rivals” exhibition a couple months ago. Competing products lined up on white, powder-coated aluminum shelves. At first I thought that it was a straightforward presentation of brand rivalries.
In the piece above 27 packages of “Old Spice” deodorant alternate with 28 packages of “Axe” deodorant. Not quite 50/50. And the proportions in the other pieces were even more unequal…
Michael Wang, LRLCYEL
After checking out Wang’s accompanying text and charts, I realized that the proportions were based on market share. I was assuming a false equivalency of brands.
What exactly is he up to here? Beginning with a quote by Milton Friedman, Wang takes us through it, step by step…
There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.
—Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
Using Coke and Pepsi to illustrate his points, Wang continues his “Rivals” presentation with a series of 15 chart and diagrams.
(Some, but not all, of these steps follow, after the fold…)
Taking company value as a site for artistic intervention, the works in the series “Rivals” act to neutralize competition between rival firms:
The sale of the artwork funds an equal investment in each rival firm. The artist is paid for the work in common stock to become a one millionth of one percent owner of both firms. The artist thus becomes a one millionth of one percent owner of the conceptual merger.
The physical works are appropriated from the product portfolios of the rival firms. The number of products included from each firm corresponds to the number of shares that will be purchased to constitute a one millionth of one percent ownership in the firm.
Michael Wang, NSRGYDANOY
Michael Wang, PFEJNJ
The idea that competition in the marketplace tends to distill down to a rivalry of just two brands, is telling. What is it about this Coke/Pepsi dichotomy that captures our imagination? Why are we drawn to the binary simplicity of only two choices?
To some, the idea of “neutralizing competition” might sound like an un-American activity. If it’s a subversive act, however, it is a passive-aggressive one. By investing in both companies Wang’s art capitulates and participates in the market. Although his investment strategy may constitute a “neutral” position, it’s really more a matter of balancing his portfolio than sabotaging capitalism.