Adages - Angry young artist vs. Mad Ave.: shooting the hand that feeds you

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The Gun and Wound Show, an art show that hangs in a gallery in the Chelsea district of New York, opened in April, before the Iraq war ended. It was timely. While U.S. soldiers engaged in deadly firefights in the streets of Basra, art snobs sipping white wine from plastic cups and nibbling cheese cubes stared diffidently at fancy photographs of grisly decapitates, oil paintings of weapons of mass destruction and manic video loops of Rambo and other Hollywood combat Joes blowing away their enemies.

In one corner of the gallery there was a series of drawings by Carter Kustera that took potshots at one of the usual targets: Madison Ave. The series, which Mr. Kustera dubbed "Fabulous Anger," portrays criminals, killers and victims in tableaus that mimic print ads, fashion catalog pages and fashion spreads in magazines.

"These pieces are all about the commodification of violence, which I'm against," says Mr. Kustera.

It turns out, however, that in addition to being an enfant terrible in the art world, Mr. Kustera is also the proud designer of a line of vanity mirrors, refrigerator magnets, shower curtains, and laundry hampers that are sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Urban Outfitters and Marshall Fields. His line of products "incorporate inspirational text," such as "I love me" and "I'm the most beautiful person I've ever seen."

Is Mr. Kustera a hypocrite?

"Hey, I've got to make a living like anyone else," says Mr. Kustera. "I've shown around the world and got lots of press but not a lot of sales. So I thought, do I compromise the artwork and make art that sells or do I just come up with an idea that will sell?"

His latest project: a line of inspirational tchotchkes for kids. "The kids market is the best market," he says. "Kids buy anything and parents buy everything for their kids."

How fabulous.

The dada of nada

George Lois is back, again. The once almighty art director, famous for his Esquire magazine covers from the `60s, and for his provocative taste in collage (such as the agency announcement he sent out in 1974 with his head on Marilyn Monroe's body) has a brand new client: OTC pre-paid phone cards. "I haven't had a job since 1999," says George. He's sitting in a conference room at KSL Media. Kal Liebowitz, the shop's chairman, is on speakerphone from his new home in Los Angeles. Kal is doing the media for OTC, George is working on the creative with his son Luke. "Prepaid phone cards are a religion to immigrants," says George. "I have this maid from Poland-or is she from Czechoslovakia, I don't remember-anyway, they live for these cards. They use them to call home, cheap."

The campaign, which airs in two weeks, is a series of spots for Spanish language TV that stars Daisy Fuentes, who chirps: "It's OTC or nada!"

George is wound up: "This is gonna work, believe me. It's a great slogan, the kind people remember."

"Yeah, and Daisy Fuentes has legs," quips a disembodied Kal over speakerphone. "I mean, everyone in the Spanish community just loves her."

"It's OTC or nada!" George barks. "It's the `I want my MTV' of phone cards."

George, at 71, is still a player.

"I'm too young to die," he says. "My mind is still fertile, my body is torn apart. But I'm still playing full-court basketball."

Send your inspirational text to rlinnett@crain.com

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