Since 2014・Volume 6
The Ballpointer's coverage of The Bic Collection ballpoint art expo came three months after the fact
—the Paris show had ended in May, 2018; Son of a Bich, Part I was published that August—but seeing as few news outlets in France (and none outside of the country, to our knowledge) bothered to report the exhibition before, during or after, our old news was still news. To date, in fact, most of what's been written about it (other than my two-cents) was written by Bic. The Bic Collection as an exhibition was, more than anything, a clever publicity ploy for The Bic Company, but perhaps it was ignored by mass media for seeming to be just that. Hitching its wagon to targeted consumers of their product, consumers who happen to be attracting attention themselves via artwork they've created using not only Bics but all brands of ballpoints, raises conflicts of interest and muddles Bic's motives.
Now Bic has added YouTube to their self-promotion strategies. This means my better-late-than-never Part II to Son of a Bich can double as a video review while allowing me to expand upon the exhibition review begun in Part I, which I still have plenty to say about (and now that I've been unofficially placed on Bic Watch you can expect these Son of a Bich entries to become a recurring rant). During a periodic session of 'ballpoint art' Googling at the start of 2019 The Ballpointer came across a video promoting The Bic Collection exhibition posted September 20, 2018, on what Bic is touting as its official YouTube channel (although, as of this writing, the video is the only post on the channel). The exhibition itself and related video make for a solid one-two promotional punch. The video is as much an infomercial for Bic as any genuine documentation of the artwork shown, half an hour extolling the greatness of Bic ®, the company, and the art altruism of Bruno Bich, the man (and company CEO), with the art collection as proof of his benevolence.
Upon hearing about The Bic Collection, as reported in Son of a Bich Part I, inquiries were submitted to every Bic contact we could find, offering a platform to explain and clarify their interests in ballpoint pen art. We hoped for and expected straightforward answers to simple questions, but Bic opted to cut out the middle man. Out comes their video; direct-to-audience DIY social media hyperbole produced and packaged to make the company, the man and the event shine. No pesky commentary or criticism which might misdirect or detract from any intended message, the message in this case obviously being: 'Bic is great '! The narrative of this video is also after the fact, so there's lots of bombast about how many people came to see the exhibition, how much praise was heaped, and what a wonderful world it could be if we all have Bic pens in our hands.
in ballpoint by
Hervé Mikaeloff and Ingrid Pux (both pictured above, In screen-grab video stills), who co-curated the exhibition, also handle boasting—excuse me, hosting—duties in the video (in French with English subtitles), which is presented in a polished ready-for-prime-time package, but their respective backgrounds or credentials for curating an exhibition of ballpoint art, or exhibition of any kind, go unmentioned. Curators-for-hire? Curators at all or just on Bic's payroll? Early in the video Pux explains that it was the curators' job to ''find the common thread that runs through the artwork'', but what more of a 'common thread' is necessary beyond use of that certain writing implement made by a certain company? Both go the way of curatorial colloquialisms to describe the company, the exhibition and the artwork, offering the kind of consumer-friendly views that insure people pick Bic when shopping for pens, artist or not. As for the venue, rental event space Centquarte-Paris, Mikaeloff explains ''We chose this location because it is accessible to a wide and varied audience.'' The venue also hosts dance and theatre performances which, he adds, ''seemed consistent with Bic's values.'' Hopefully disposability is not one of the 'Bic values' to which he is referring.
The exhibition was divided into four themes: Historic Artists of the Collection, Portrait Gallery, Design and Fashion Items, and Imaginary Architectures. More than 150 works of art are said to have been displayed, ''bringing together artists from all over the world who have been inspired by Bic''. Pux informs us the artwork on display constituted only part of Bic's collection, ''highlighting the skeleton of the collection,'' adding that most of the artwork in the exhibition normally decorates the company's offices, meeting rooms and lunch spaces.
Ballpoint pen drawings constitute the majority of artwork, but Bic inks and the pens themselves were also utilized, adding dimension to the display in the form of objects, sculpture and installations. Upon entering the exhibition, visitors pass an installation by Austrian artist Herbert Hinteregger made up of 15,000 Bic Cristal pens (pictured). Paolo Ulian created a chandelier called Anemone made up of red Bic ballpoints minus interior components, allowing light to shine through the pens' clear plastic bodies. Pux says this object was Bruno Bich's first ballpoint art acquisition and the start of what would become The Collection, which now includes several similar works by Ulian.
Ballpoints are not the only Bic product used to create the art comprising the collection. A chair by Kate Lennard impressively constructed from 1,100 disposable Bic razors (pictured) must have been a highlight of the Design and Fashion category of the exhibition, its glossy white and Bic-yellow plastic gleaming under spotlights. Oscar Carvallo stitched 8,000 disposable Bic lighters to a gown said to weigh 500 pounds requiring six people to carry. Curators don't say whether either are functional but they are at least fun, and, along with figurines sculpted of melted Bic pen plastics and pottery coated with Bic inks, might qualify as the King of Disposability's answer to recycling. Art patronage as penance? Not bad for a start. Bic's footprint on the planet is considerable, due to aforementioned disposable lighter, razor and ballpoint plastics clogging landfills, but I'll leave that investigative report to CNN.
Alighiero Boetti, Lucio Fontana, Alberto Giacometti, Fernand Léger and René Magritte are among the group presented as Historic Artists of the Collection. Giacometti, Léger and Magritte definitely qualify as 'historic' art names but their reputations were forged via traditional art mediums and their ballpoint pen usage was incidental and shows no particular mastery of the pens, an important point which continues to cloud general understanding of ballpoint pen art. Bruno Bich gushes over a self-portrait by Magritte drawn in 1960—presumably using a Bic ballpoint although it is not specifically noted—but the drawing is unremarkable except that it was drawn by Magritte and would not have merited inclusion to a collection of this kind had it been drawn by anyone else. The same can be said of a ''sketch of a painting featuring a dove'' by Léger. Boetti, on the other hand, gained attention specifically for his ballpoint pen work but its 'wow' factor was mostly due to its grand scale. Continues on HEADLINES 2 page ...
All artwork © respective artists.
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thINK by B. Neufeld posted July 2, 2019
Son of a Bich PART lI・video review: The BIC Collection・YouTube
Screen-grab stills from Bic's
The Bic Collection promotional YouTube video...
A chair by
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