In Thomas More’s “Utopia,” published in 1516, gold and precious stones have no value. Indeed, they carry the weight of blood, slavery and human madness …
The Art of Manipulation:
The corporate contrivance of art sponsorship was so perfectly described in 1994 by Hans Haacke in “Free Exchange”, the book by Pierre Bourdieu and Hans Haacke, that I’m quoting here from the English version published by Polity Press in 1995: “One would underestimate the Venice Biennale if one were to think that it is only concerned with development aid for Venice and dividing the secular shares of the art market. Philip Morris, at least, was not fooled, when the giant consumer goods corporation sponsored the American pavilion of Isamu Noguchi in 1986. The Marlboro cowboys couldn’t care less whether Noguchi’s prices would go up. Living in the saddles all their lives, they understood one thing: ‘It takes art to make a company great.’ – Philip Morris’ slogan on double-page advertisements in the American press announcing art events sponsored by the company during the 1970s and 1980s. In Italy, during the Biennale year of 1993, Philip Morris presented itself with the slogan ‘La culture dei tempi moderni.‘
One might be tempted to assume that the weather-beaten fellows with big hats were thinking of paintings of their horses, or of fiery sunsets behind the Rockies. No … They aim at the big show places for ‘high art’ around the world. One can surmise what they are looking for from the jargon with which such behavior is analyzed in a book published by the conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: ‘Sponsoring has three central communications goals: recognition, attitudes, and the promotion of good relations. What matters is that ‘the positive image of the sponsored is transferred to the sponsor’ (image transfer). FAZ summary: ‘Sponsoring is an opportunity to cultivate relations with selected big clients, trading partners, opinion makers and opinion multipliers, in an attractive setting.’ (Manfred Bruhn, ‘Sponsoring. Unternehmen als Mäzen und Sponsoren’‘ – The company as Sponsor and Patron – 1987)
The oil men from Mobil are more direct. They call it ‘Art for the sake of business.’ For those who are a bit dense they elaborate: ‘What’s in it for us – or for your company? Improving – and securing the business climate.’ (Mobil corporation advertisement, New York Times, October 10, 1985)
In short, this means low taxes, favorable regulations in the areas of commerce, public health, and the environment, governmental export assistance, irrespective of the nature of the products and the politics of the country of destination, and a defense against criticism of the sponsor’s conduct. For example, behind the smokescreen of art, it is easier for the Wehrwirtschaftsführer (Third Reich term for leaders of the defense industry) of Daimler-Benz to rid themselves elegantly of pesky reporters inquiring about the company’s chumminess with Saddam Hussein and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Alain-Dominique Perrin, the boss of the Cartier bauble shops in Paris (and the creator of the Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art) once described this mechanism in exquisite, amorous terms: ‘Sponsoring art is not only a fantastic communications tool. It is much more than that. It is a tool for the seduction of public opinion.’ (Alain-Dominique Perrin, ‘Le Mécénat français: La fin d’un préjugé’, Galeries Magazine, no. 15, 1986)
The best part is that the seduced are allowed to pay for the aphrodisiac expenses incurred in their seduction. They are tax-deductible. The cowboys with their cancer sticks simply followed their innate country smarts when they decided to take Noguchi along for a ride.
‘Culture is in fashion. All the better. As long as it lasts, we should use it,’ applauds the gentleman from the Place Vendôme (Alain-Dominique Perrin in the same article in Galeries Magazine) – apparently aware of the impermanence of the high entertainment value culture enjoys at the moment.
According to Thomas Wagner, who staged a fair of electronic consumer products (MEDIALE) laced with art in the 1993 cyberspace of Hamburg, ‘art events of the scale of documenta or the Biennale are modern myths.’ Public relations experts and their marketing colleagues have gleefully discovered that, of late, the prestige and the symbolic power of these and comparable mythical art institutions are at their disposal. Art still exudes the odor of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, an unbeatable image-transfer offering.
Because it is not suspected of serving worldly interests, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful (GTB) represent an enormous symbolic capital, even though it cannot be put into figures. In his Biennale call, the mayor/comedy writer Riccardo Selvatico had declared that ‘art is one of the most valuable elements of civilisation’ and that it offers ‘unprejudiced decision of the spirit.’ Managers do not need to worry about what this may mean, as long as their target groups believe in the immaculate conception and no mass layoffs are in the offing.
While Casanova, that great Venetian expert, has taught them that not just anything is suitable for the enterprise of seduction, they can rely on the art institutions to choose the appropriate means.
We know from Philippe de Montebello, (from 1977 to 2008 the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) unquestionably a connoisseur of the milieu, how the internal control mechanism of sponsoring works: ‘It’s an inherent, insidious, hidden form of censorship.’ (cited in ‘A Word from our Sponsor,’ Newsweek, November 25, 1985).
GTB not only serves as a lubricant and constitutes exchange value in art markets. The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are empty terms, ready to be filled by any number of different contents. It is therefore not surprising that fierce arguments have always raged among producers and traders, as well as in the warehouses, over the dominance of this or that ingredient. And not only there. When it comes to the definition of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, more is at stake than parochial politicians of the art world sometimes imagine. Determining language is ideological and political management – to be sampled also in what has filled the pavilions of the Biennale over the past 100 years.”
Since 1995 when this book was published, the luxury brand Cartier has been busy cultivating new targets to “sponsor” in order to acquire “the prestigious positioning of its brand with a social dimension.” i.e.: Trees! Yanomami!
A selected chronology: 1998 – At the São Paulo Biennale Hervé Chandès, general director of the Cartier Foundation, discovered Claudia Andujar’s photos of the Yanomami.
2000 – Hervé Chandès met the anthropologist Bruce Albert who introduced him to Davi Kopenawa and the Yanomami. Chandès then proposed an artistic event at the Cartier Foundation in Paris combining the work of contemporary artists, Claudia Andujar’s photos and the Yanomami – organized in partnership with the NGO Survival.
Chandès was also instrumental in encouraging Bruce Albert to publish a book of Davi Kopenawa’s thoughts. An early version of the developing manuscript appeared in the catalogue of Cartier’s 2003 exhibition “Yanomami, The Spirit of the Forest.”
While reading the completed book “The Falling Sky,” published in 2013, it’s evident that there is nothing in the 412 pages setting forth the words of Yanomami spokesman and shaman Davi Kopenawa that would allow anyone to think that the Yanomami appreciate gold or merchandise made with gold. Absolutely every reference to gold and those who admire gold in the book reveals Davi Kopenawa’s point of view: “They want to find gold – Their avidity was what made most of our elders die long ago!” – “Merchandise Love – The Value the white people give the Gold they covet so much” – “Gold is nothing more than shiny dust in the mud, yet the white people can kill for that!” – “Cannibal Gold” and so many more…
But I digress…
2004 – A year after the exhibition “Yanomami, The Spirit of the Forest,” Hervé Chandès detailed in an interview for parisart how closely the Cartier Foundation is overseen by the luxury gold watch and jewelry merchant Cartier: – “To give us an idea, what are the operating costs required by an establishment like this? The Foundation is private, entirely funded by Cartier for its communications. To give a broad estimate, the general budget – operating and programming – varies around five million euros. – What relationship does the Foundation have with the Cartier company? It is a very close, simple and structured relationship. The Foundation has a mission to fulfill for which it has been entrusted and specifications to be respected. The Foundation reports regularly on its activities to the company with which it works hand in hand. We maintain close relations with Cartier and its foreign subsidiaries, particularly in the field of communication.“
2010 – The book by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, “La chute du ciel ” was published in French by PLON
2015 – In Miami, federal prosecutors investigated and exposed a multi-billion dollar money laundering operation by employees of NTR Metals, a major US precious metals trading company. Three traders pleaded guilty to buying illegal “dirty” gold from narco-traffickers and other organized crime elements that was extracted from mines in Latin America. One of NTR Metals’ customers was Cartier.
2016 – In an interview in ALUMNI SUP DE LUXE, Alain-Dominique Perrin maintains that “Luxury is a real job!” “The Institut Supérieur de Marketing du Luxe was created at Cartier in 1990 to meet the new needs of the sector in terms of commercial development and global presence. A passion for luxury and beauty that he now intends to pass on to young people more than ever. … ‘Imagine the new markets: today Australians are entering luxury and we see magnificent shopping centers flourishing with all the major brands.’”
2018 – More than 500 years after the conquest of the Americas by Europe initiated centuries of pillage of nature and displacement, slavery and horror for indigenous peoples, Pope Francis visited the Madre de Dios region of Peru and said that the gold mining industry had become a “false god that demands human sacrifice” because it destroys people and nature and “corrupts everything. …I want everyone to hear God’s cry.” “Where are your sister and brother slaves?” the pope asked as he evoked the human trafficking that provides miners and sex workers for the gold industry. “There is so much complicity. And it’s a question for everyone.” The pope said that never before in history had traditional Amazon cultures been so intensely endangered.
Demand for gold and other rainforest resources from consumers in wealthy countries is driving the relentless and ongoing devastation of nature and the degradation of indigenous lives. As the pope spoke in Peru, two of the gold traders from NTR Metals in Miami were sentenced to years in prison. The judge said that they contributed to “deforestation…poisoning of workers … social ills.”
But they are not the only people involved who are guilty…
The same year, Alain-Dominique Perrin, co-chairman of the Richemont group’s strategic committee, said in an interview in Entreprendre “We (Cartier) opened the door to the financing of art through luxury. … All the major companies in the luxury sector have embarked on sponsorship of contemporary art, including Louis Vuitton, Pinault, Prada, Hermès or recently the Galeries Lafayette. We forged the path by being the pioneers. Patronage is comparable to sponsorship: in return, the Foundation receives praise from the press, the media and social networks, which necessarily benefits the company. The company spends and injects money but derives a profit through additional notoriety and the prestigious positioning of its brand with a social dimension.“
2019 – Cartier’s CEO Cyrille Vigneron was interviewed in Fashion Network. The article details that “Cartier is part of the Swiss luxury group Richemont, which also controls Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc, IWC, Piaget, Alfred Dunhill, Chloé, James Purdey, Azzedine Alaïa, Shanghai Tang and Yoox Net-A-Porter. Richemont, belonging to the wealthy South African Rupert family, does not detail the income of each of its brands, but Cartier‘s turnover is estimated at more than 7 billion euros.
‘Net-A-Porter is a very powerful platform, with a solid client base. And in terms of visibility and attractiveness for Cartier, everything has gone very well. We see that the penetration of the e-commerce channel goes beyond price issues and that expensive items are more and more accepted on the Internet,’ rejoices Cyrille Vigneron, who points out that the most expensive item sold in the framework of this collaboration was a panther watch paved with diamonds sold for 140,000€ to a British customer.”
2020 – March 11th was the debut of the extraordinary “Dirty Gold” episode of the “Dirty Money” documentary series on Netflix. The film explores the money laundering scheme at NTR Metals, drug cartel involvement and the refineries in Miami that were closed down for trafficking in illegal gold from Latin America. At great personal risk, individuals and federal agents investigated and revealed the devastating and tragic toll of gold mining on nature and the lives of indigenous people – “who lives with the daily threat of execution” … “One refinery employee – proud that Cartier was a customer” – As much as 75% of the gold extracted each year is used for jewelry, watches, accessories and other ostentatious & trivial status symbols sold by Cartier & others in the gold industry.
Also in March, JOAILLERIE published: “Cartier unveils the novelties of its ‘Clash‘ collection! The famous French jewelry house launched its ‘Clash‘ collection in April 2019, which very quickly became a must-have. Cartier today unveils new jewelry, in white or gray gold, which embraces the turquoise shades of amazonite.”
The publicity photo for “Clash” by Cartier is chillingly reminiscent of the wealthy Capitol of Panem in The Hunger Games universe. Perverse propaganda for a deadly industry?
I don’t know about mining conditions for amazonite, but there is no sustainable way to mine gold in the quantities required by the global luxury industry, or even those concerning discount gold jewelry…
How much longer are people in wealthy countries going to continue to pretend to not be responsible for the desolation and despair that gold and diamond mining is causing?
Bruce Albert, the anthropologist and apologist for Cartier, in an exchange on Twitter, informed me that “Cartier has full custody of a portion of its gold supply chain” and sent a link to an article with that title in professional jeweller that he must not have read beforehand. The article quotes an assessment by Human Rights Watch that indicates that Cartier does not actually have a good record on environmental and human rights issues.
I replied: “I read: ‘unclear whether Cartier enforces this provision…has chain of custody for some, but not all, of its gold…does not indicate for diamonds…traceability for a fraction of its gold. Parent company Richemont: traceability is a long-term goal and an area for improvement.’ ??”
(The November 2020 update from Human Rights Watch titled “Covid-19 Pandemic Devastates Mining Communities, Increases Rights Risks” indicates that Cartier has made no progress in improving their dismal record.)
Bruce Albert continued on Twitter with “But what I know first hand is that @Fond_Cartier and #CartierPhilanthropy gave since last April about 135,000 USD to the Yanomami in Brazil to buy medical equipment to protect themselves from the Covid-19 (including 65 medical oxygen concentrators).”
I replied, “You’re referring to the Covid-19 propagated by #goldminers in Yanomami territory (and elsewhere in the Amazon)? Perhaps @Fond_Cartier could send some medical equipment to other indigenous communities decimated by #goldmining or revise their #BloodGold business model instead ??”
There was no further response.
Cartier’s mercantile motives are obvious. The business empire of this purveyor of gold and diamond trinkets exists and thrives because consumers crave status symbols. But when Stephen Corry and other representatives of an indigenous peoples’ NGO, Survival, and anthropologist Bruce Albert attempt to convince the world that the luxury gold jewelry industry leader Cartier is doing good works?
How should we interpret a stance so ungrounded in reality? Deluded? Mercenary?
What, exactly, do the Yanomami think of gold, merchandise made with gold, and rampant consumerism? It’s explained here in a short film made by Brazilian NGO Socioambiental:LISTEN TO THE YANOMAMI SHAMAN’S MESSAGE
Here’s a small excerpt from the text: “But you’ve always been so greedy -Too primitive – too savage to understand – Now you still bring curses over the Yanomami – Illnesses – And once again we are dying because of it – And all indigenous land is being turned into – ashes and mud”
2021 – The Cartier Foundation presented “The Yanomami Struggle” exhibition at the Triennale Milano until February 7th 2021. “The Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art and Triennale Milano have joined forces for a period of 8 years. This unprecedented collaboration represents a new model of cultural partnership in Europe between public and private institutions.”
This time, not only the Cartier Foundation’s General Director Hervé Chandès spoke at the opening “…exhibition dedicated to the Yanomami and their cause…” but also Cyrille Vigneron, the CEO of the Cartier company.
Italy’s Minister Franceschini remarked that “Europe is an important producer and consumer of cultural content.”
Indeed, as Minister Franceschini stated at the Cartier/Triennale opening: “Europe is an important producer and consumer of cultural content.”
Yes, culture is a commodity and art is a sales pitch. Their customers, the shoppers of Europe and the rest of the world, are eager to show off their huge, impressive art show catalogs as well as their gold and diamond jewelry, watches and accessories.
Now, the Cartier Foundation is presenting a version of their 2019 exhibition “We the Trees” as “Trees” in a lavishly renovated power station, The Power Station of Art, China’s first state-run contemporary art museum. Converting the building cost $64 million which was paid for by the Shanghai government. Cartier’s show at the Power Station of Art runs through October 10th, 2021, and was orchestrated, according to Cartier’s publicity for the event: “with the complicity of the anthropologist Bruce Albert.”
A forum at the Power Station of Art on July 8th, “The World Begins with Tree” was open to special guests and media only.
The online announcement states that: “Trees are among the oldest living organisms on the planet. Together, the different types of forest form the largest area of living matter that exists on Earth. The human race has existed for a mere 300,000 years or so, and, in comparison, is humble to these prestige masters of time and space. Equipped with sensorial abilities and communication skills, trees provide constant sources of inspiration for artistic and philosophical thinking in human society. This exhibition is curated to echo the concept of a ‘botanical revolution’, where a fresh look is introduced to these ancient creatures that surround us. We should give trees their rightful place and respect, and consider them a true partner in our shared world.
July 8th, we invite curators of this exhibition Hervé Chandès, Gong Yan and Fei Dawei, and the participating artists Hu Liu and Fabrice Hyber, along with the philosopher Emanuele Coccia to walk us through this continuously mentioned, but never really comprehended ‘Nature’.
‘Art’ is our vehicle to amplify the voice of the trees – a tonic in the chant of all living beings – once again.” – Emanuele Coccia
For over five centuries, indigenous people, trees and the rest of nature in colonized countries have paid the price for the relentless avidity for gold, diamonds and other luxury items.
Thousands of rainforest trees must be uprooted, hundreds of tons of soil excavated and mixed with dozens of tons of toxic environmental pollutants (producing one pound of gold requires approximately six pounds of mercury) that contaminate indigenous land and water sources for that one special gold ring…
“Art Sponsorship” is a discursive attempt to transform reality and turn our focus from one context to another. “Communications” are exercises in storytelling, in myth; extolling the merits of specific brands. These publicities are accompanied by fictions, which help to defuse the true character of a business model in order to forge a series of positive associations in the collective imagination. The story finds its happy end with the “image transfer” and the product achieves legitimacy.
Unfortunately, for the Cartier storyline that depends on the Yanomami and even more unfortunately for the Yanomami, the destruction of their territory for the gold industry and diseases propagated by gold miners and Yanomami deaths from Covid-19 is becoming more difficult to spin into an entrancing fantasy.
The same could also be said of trees…