Culture Meets Vulture

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When Y&R/New York ECD Barry Hoffman brought pop artist George Rodrigue's Blue Dog icon into a major Xerox campaign a few years ago, he didn't realize how far things would go. Beyond the canine's memorable advertising appearance, Rodrigue decided to take the art and commerce crossover one step further, creating paintings inspired directly by the ads themselves. "He had this thought of closing the loop, which he did," recalls Hoffman. "The headlines, the body copy were all part of the painting." The reverse double flip, from art to advertising and back again, inspired Hoffman's new book, The Fine Art of Advertising, out this month from Stewart, Tabori & Chang. "The book is about the borderland where high art and low culture interact, and how the definitions of the two have become increasingly blurred over the last century," Hoffman explains. His extensive research involved scouring everything from the tearsheet archives of the New York Public Library to eBay. The examples yielded surprising revelations about how deep the crossover has been, as seen in chapters like "Hello Dali," which explores how advertising from the late '30s to the early '50s appropriated Surrealism; and "The Queen of All Media," an entire section devoted to the Mona Lisa's popularity as a shill.

Hoffman is clearly the right man for this job. Prior to his ad career, the Harvard Ph.D. in American lit taught at his alma mater and at UMass/Boston. "The academic credentials, my 20 years of experience in the business and my interest in fine arts - strains of culture vulture and fine-art appreciator all came together," he laughs.

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