It was only a matter of time until we see a contemporary art superstar lend their artwork to a major consumer packaged brand. (That’s “CPB” for for those in the marketing business.) Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has hooked up with the French sparkling mineral water Perrier. Not that artists and brands haven’t collaborated before. But such commercial creative partnerships have tended to be aligned with exclusive luxury or lifestyle brands.
This isn’t the first time Murakami has worked his artwork into a brand’s product or identity. The mega-artist has famously worked with Louis Vuitton on bags and merch, going so far as to have a customized, working Louis Vuitton store as part of his museum exhibitions. These doubly serving as strategically-placed-as-the-exit gift shop slinging Murakami emblazoned goods. Here, one might argue, the commerce and collaboration was part of the artwork itself.
What’s different about this is that it’s for a massive retail consumer product. The collaboration, as far as we can see, extends only to the labels of the Perrier bottles and packaging. Perrier is an interesting choice of partners. We love Perrier. It’s a relatively “classy” (in some American eyes, anyway) and storied French brand, even though, at the end of the day, it’s just bottled, carbonated mineral water from the Alps. It’s a reasonably-priced global commodity found in many supermarkets, large and small.
The collaborative bet here amounts to great, broad mainstream exposure for Murakami and his art, and let’s Perrier tap further into art-world cool, skimming some of its prestige and creative cachet. This, unlike the artist’s partnership with Vuitton, seems like a bit of slumming for Murakami. His position, his artwork and images, is more rarefied, in spite of his work’s deep and overt pop-cultural sensibilities. Can one argue here, too, like with the Vuitton store, that this transactional relationship is also in a way performative and part of Murakami’s artwork?
When we first saw these Murakami Perrier bottles on the shelves of our local Erewhon supermarket in Los Angeles, we were surprised and a bit delighted at first (we’re long-time fans of Murakami), but then ultimately a little sad and cynical about it all. We were thirsty and wanted some sparkling water. The Perrier quenched out thirst just fine. It did so no better or nor worse because of the Murakami artwork on the bottle’s label. We emptied the bottle, studied the label and then tossed it in the recyclables bin and went about our day no more or less the happy than before.