Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Nam June Paik, and many more have reimagined the vodka brand’s iconic bottle – a legacy captured in a new film by Seth De SilvaAbsolut
You probably (hopefully) don’t associate a good night out with giant spiders – even less with your mother. In 2003, however, Louise Bourgeois felt differently. In what is now considered one of the most iconic Absolut adverts to date, the vodka bottle replaces the egg sac in a recreation of Maman, Bourgeois’ large-scale steel spider sculpture that typically trades the alcohol for 17 marble eggs. This contribution to the Absolut Generations project was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2003, when the artist would have been 91 years old and had already received a lifetime achievement award at the 48th biennale, signalling the continued strength of Absolut’s collaborations, twenty years after they began.
NAM JUNE PAIK
Nam June Paik was the first artist enlisted to create an Absolut campaign in the year 2000, meaning that the then-68-year-old was tasked with marking the start of a new millennium. And who better for the task than the “godfather of video art”, whose insights are still ringing true to this day? Reflecting his past gallery installations, the ad features an electronic sculpture that stands seven feet high, in the shape of… you guessed it, an Absolut vodka bottle. Nestled inside the sculpture are video screens, interwoven with coloured neon tubing that lights up the darkened warehouse where the sculpture is photographed. Despite Paik’s forward-facing approach to art in a changing world, his installation also recalls the energetic lines of Keith Haring’s interpretation, or the smiley faces and odd symbols that cropped up in work by Kenny Scharf – perhaps the artist’s own playful nod to the impressive lineup of Absolut collaborators that came before him.
In the year 1999, on the eve of the new millennium, Absolut commissioned 17 European contemporary artists to “capture the spirit of the age” for a series of adverts in Time magazine, including Chris Ofili, Francesco Clemente, and Jan Saudek. First, though, came Hirst. Arriving at the end of a decade that had seen him achieve worldwide fame (and notoriety) with sharks and cut-up cows preserved in formaldehyde, the ad made a playful reference to his work. An Absolut bottle is suspended in a sterile display case, with another bottle suspended inside the first, and another inside that, like nesting dolls. Thankfully, he did manage to keep the rotting flesh to a minimum.
Maurizio Cattelan followed Damien Hirst in the series of millennial artworks published in Time, long before he became famous for crafting a golden toilet, or for his $120,000 banana taped to a wall at Art Basel. For his contribution, the Italian artist dropped a mouse into the empty bottle, where it sits clutching its head, hinting at a hangover. Obviously, Maurizio Cattelan has never taken himself too seriously, and has always had a keen eye for a joke, while Absolut has offered pretty much free reign to the artists it hires.
Andy Warhol and Keith Haring plastered the Absolut bottle in the primary colours of pop art, but Kenny Scharf (then a relative unknown, who supposedly got the job on Warhol’s recommendation) took it intergalactic. Echoing Scharf’s signature sci-fi settings and cartoonish style, the painting transforms the vodka bottle into a green, lowbrow alien, surrounded by whooshing rockets, swirling galaxies, and bright yellow gelatinous shapes. A second artwork is set in the desert, with spirits escaping the neck of the bottle like aliens lifting off from Area 51 – far from the sleek and sophisticated (read: boring) ads that were synonymous with the alcohol industry up to that point. Looking back on Scharf, Roux said he was “one of the most difficult artists” he’d ever have to deal with, but admits that his art campaign solidified the “tremendous success” of the ongoing collaborative project.