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Banana Republic’s New In-Store Art Program

Written by Alejandra Serret

Photographs Courtesy of Bananna Republic



Lush artwork decorates the monotone walls at the Banana Republic in Rockefeller Center. Subtle paintings in black and white mixed with vibrant pieces and vivid photographs add to the collections of clothing that hang below. While Banana Republic often takes chances with its advertising, this seems a departure. At the beginning of August, Banana Republic launched a program to showcase artwork from 13 artists’ work, all in varying stages of experience. In total 54 pieces were chosen and will be displayed at all domestic locations until 2010. While copies were made and stores received the same work, each chooses how best to exhibit the art, in connecting it to their clothing.

The Banana Republic at Rockefeller Center’s thoughtful pairing is artful in and of itself. Fluid brushstrokes: the long, delicate stem of a flower melds with the clean lines of a gray suit, a tailored silk shirt. While the combination works aesthetically, it’s most successful in its mission: subtlety, elegance, uniqueness. This seems an interesting attempt to separate itself from other chain clothing stores.

While the majority of artwork highlighted, speaks for itself, Banana Republic’s Fall ad campaign also showcases the talent, doing on paper, what the stores do in person. The ads highlight the clothing through a backdrop of vibrant color, sharp shapes, thick lines: a beautiful woman in a black and white floral patterned dress, stands before a canvas of the same pattern. Again, the coupling is at first literal, but argues that the clothing is artsy, urban, elegant.

This campaign, set to branch out to its International stores in the near future, is at once up front but sends mixed signals. The artwork hangs on the walls but without lending credit to its creator. Nowhere in the store does it mention that the pieces are part of a program to showcase national artists. The only place where I found the work labeled was in the fitting rooms. The photographs exhibited Sean Hemmerle’s work: beautiful black and whites of urban settings. The fitting room makes sense, as it’s where people will wait in line and take the time to peruse, and yet it lends a disjointed sense to it all. His work alone is given credit.
What then of the others? What is the ultimate intention? What is in it for the artists? Intense exposure is a certainty, but the artists, for the most part remain nameless. Most shoppers who walked through the Banana Republic at Rockefeller Center, barely noticed the collection. When asked, two friends were surprised that showcasing artists’ work was the intention. “I wouldn’t have noticed, unless you’d mentioned it,” said Nandini Ramamnethy. And what of those who do notice and appreciate without a name to follow up on? This all seems fitting though: beautiful artwork that meshes well with the clothing but that gets placed in a way that doesn’t overshadow it. In the end, 13 artists can rest assured that millions of people will view their work thanks to a new nationwide art program.

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