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Absolut Haring
Keith Haring's 1986 acrylic on canvas "Absolut Haring"  

Absolut-ly art

Exhibit highlights vodka maker's ad campaign

June 5, 2000
Web posted at: 1:05 p.m. EDT (1705 GMT)


(CNN) -- It started when Andy Warhol asked if he could paint a portrait of the distinctive vodka bottle.

During the 15 years since Warhol laid acrylic across silkscreen to create that first image, more than 500 artists have made their own interpretations for Absolut's signature campaign that melds art and advertising.

More than 90 of the original works, including those by Warhol, Keith Haring and Michael Graves, went on exhibit Monday in a retrospective at New York's Grand Central Terminal that will last through June 13. It ís a celebration of the Swedish vodka's 20th anniversary of importation to the United States.

"I'm always quite surprised by the reaction. It's usually quite overwhelming," said Marion Kahan, curator of the Absolut collection. "It's an extraordinarily popular campaign, and it sort of crosses all sorts of types."

Kahan often is asked to explain the success of the campaign, which includes series devoted to folk art, the Southwest and African-American artists.

Campaign catchy, funny

"I think because it's very catchy, it's very smart, and it also has an element of humor," she said.

George Rodrigue's "Absolut Louisiana," 1991, oil on canvas  

All the works of art, fashion and design in the exhibition were commissioned by the Absolut Co. for use in ad campaigns, local exhibitions and other cultural events. The only requirement for an artist is that he or she include the Absolut bottle within the artwork.

One of the most popular is the Absolut Statehood campaign, represented in the exhibition by "Absolut Louisiana," a painting by "Blue Dog" artist George Rodrigue.

Beginning in 1989, the Americana campaign showcased work by contemporary folk artists, including a full-size cotton quilt designed by JoAnn O'Callaghan and Angie Roth.

In 1991, Absolut commissioned new works from 16 prominent African-American artists for a campaign called Absolut Heritage. It includes a painting by Lois Mailou Jones, one of the most important American figurative painters of the 20th century.

Among other works in the exhibition are a cartoon by illustrator Al Hirshfeld, a pencil sketch by Graves, and designer Dakota Jackson's metal prototype of a swivel office stool.

It's only fitting that Warhol, who proposed the first image in 1985, started the Absolut phenomenon, said Kahan. The company paid Warhol $65,000 for the painting, finished in 1986 -- the most it's ever paid for a work.

"It just stands to reason that the same man who took a Campbell soup can and created an art icon sort of did the same thing (with Absolut), and that got the ball rolling," Kahan said.

Rummaging through Andy Warhol's 'junk'
May 9, 2000
Society-types and toddlers watch as man paints dog
October 1, 1999
Bullseye! Michael Graves does Target
February 11, 1999
Keith Haring's vibrant pop legacy lives on in New York
July 3, 1997

Absolut Web site
Grand Central Terminal
The Art of George Rodrigue and the Blue Dog Series
The Andy Warhol Museum
Keith Haring

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