What would Mary of the “Pietà” say?
What would the “American Gothic” farmer holler if he could drop his pitchfork, the “Vitruvian Man” his eternal jumping jacks? If these amber-frozen creatures of art could stretch out, step out and move, what would they talk about?
In the case of Roy Lichtenstein’s “I Know How You Must Feel, Brad” woman, she would talk about guerrilla marketing and how it doesn’t matter that she and her cohort work for a PR firm because, “Ultimately, we’re here for the art.”
I first saw the marketers on the Bucktown side of the North Avenue six corners with Damen and Milwaukee. There were about 10 of them, mostly women, all college-aged but one. They all wore identical black Art Institute of Chicago T-shirts and all carried identical black Art Institute of Chicago messenger bags and fans like auction paddles, all but one.
The one was painted as a Lichtenstein.
She was a bit older than the rest — maybe my age, early 30s — and was poised and professional. She wore a blue dress with scattered dots, nylons with scattered dots and thick geisha face paint with scattered dots.
Her clown-white face was a delicate dapple of thick, bold lines and dots aping the strokes and four-color printing process of the 1950s romance comic books Lichtenstein aped. Her face-strokes drew you in, gave her the forced perspective of, quite literally, a work of art.
She could have been any one of Lichtenstein’s crying, scheming, longing romantic blondes. I just guessed she was dressed as 1963′s “I Know How You Must Feel, Brad” when I was looking through the Lichtenstein Foundation website while writing this story. It was the first one I saw where the woman had a blue dress.
A man in shorts and a yellow T-shirt walked up to the group as they loitered on the corner by a former bank.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
“We got kicked out,” said one of the college kids in the Art Institute gear.
They had gotten booted from a nearby music festival for trying to shill the Art Institute’s big Lichtenstein exhibit to the crowds walking in.
The light turned green and I pedaled on.
I saw them again about 20 minutes later. They were making a dejected single-file procession through nearby Wicker Park back to their cars. I caught up with them on Schiller, the south boundary of the fair that had booted them from the north.
A few gave mild cheers when I asked about “the Lichtensteining.” I Know How You Must Feel, Brad gave a pitch-perfect elevator speech on the exhibit, why it’s special and why I should go. One of the college kids gave me a button and a little Lichtenstein card I’m going to keep on my desk.
Then the Lichtenstein said “guerrilla marketing.”
If you spell “lead” “lede,” you’re a journalist. If you call a bathroom a “head,” you’re a sailor or a pretentious douche. And if you say “guerrilla marketing” without an undercurrent of shame, you’re a marketer.
I asked the painting if she worked for a PR firm or the Art Institute. She hemmed, hawed and said ultimately it doesn’t matter. I was a little offended by that. Not that they were marketers, but that she tried to hide it.
Great pop art embraced the corporate and commercial, creating indelible images from soup cans, M. Monroe or, in R.L.’s case, bad 1950s romance comic books. If the woman wanted to keep me, she should have answered my question with, “Why yes we do and here’s my card.” It was the half-assed shame that ticked me off.
Pop art is honest about how commercial it is. She wasn’t. Her title was wrong: She didn’t know how I must feel.