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Generation Wealth – Lauren Greenfield

Sorry, I keep thinking about Koons since last week’s blog…which might be a hopeful sign that there is more than meet the shiny surface of his gazing balls, who knows?

I am still bothered by Koons slapping a blue ball on a Manet, Turner or Géricault masterpiece copy and calling it art (on view at Gagosian Beverly Hills until August 18th).

Jeff Koons, various Gazing Balls

But when he does it again on his Masters handbags at the Louis Vuitton store around the corner, the unease becomes aesthetic repulsion mixed with admiration for the shameless business calculation. Luxury handbags are still a lower price point than artworks, it’s a marketing dream Made in Heaven.

But what about Art? Is a Vuitton bag with a cheap copy of the Mona Lisa on it a piece of art worth $4000? Visually, how different is it from the souvenir tote bag you can buy at the museum gift shop?

What’s missing is any respect and modesty when listening to Koons’ interview for Vuitton. He has no qualms adjoining a shiny JK monogram on an equal footing to the Vuitton one (disclaimer: I do not own any Vuitton handbags). The fact that he lacks the 155-year brand history and capital seems completely irrelevant (as were Manet, Turner and Géricault with the Gazing Balls).

Forget about History and Cultural Patrimony, it’s all about Generation Wealth!

And Generation Wealth is exactly where you should hurry while in Los Angeles: a thought-provoking exhibition by photographer Lauren Greenfield on view at the Annenberg Space for Photography until August 13, 2017.

Detail from a photograph by Lauren Greenfield

Generation Wealth is social photography at its best. It shocked me, challenged me and made me think about many past, present and future aspects of my life.

It’s a deeply contrasting take on the exact same theme which makes Koons art tick. It’s about consumer culture, materialism and Trumpism in today’s world, where truth, meanings and values are running thin. A world our children need to straighten back, if only we can equip them with the right mentality…

When money runs out…

It’s about the importance of values, the quick reversal of fortunes that can hit everywhere on the income spectrum, it’s about China and where the money flows…It’s an exhibition that will keep you thinking for a long time…

Where Koons has the 1% buying his ever bigger and shinier sculptures, Lauren Greenberg actually recorded that 1% and its aspiring fringe throughout her career. She pointed her camera in their home, at work and on the operation table. As such, her photographic observations and recordings reveal the effects the 1% have on people desiring the same life and aspiring to the same material goods.

I have always shared Lauren Greenberg’s interest and fascination. Asked which sector interested me to cover as Financial Analyst during my very first job at a large asset manager in London, I tentatively said Luxury Goods…and I got it!

Analyzing how, how much and for how long these companies could make money to justify my investment recommendations, let me disclaim I was also aspiring to own some of their luxury offerings along the way.

Born with an eye for things beautiful, I was attracted to the aesthetics, craftsmanship and rarity of the objects. The fact they also crystallized all the hard work I had to put in to afford them made me desire them and earn them.

But my take is thankfully quite different from the protagonists in Lauren Greenfield’s Generation Wealth who go shopping to “numb” themselves, compulsively buying a ramped up production of goods who have a luxury look but have become expensive commodities.

Where I still value hard work first to afford the beautiful, others seek status first and foremost, entering a race for more, going big, bigger and biggest. How else can one end up wearing 33 pounds of gold chains around their neck?

How else could someone in 2013 be ready to pay an ominous $58.4m for Koons Balloon Dog in Orange (of all colors, it had to be this one!).

The “addictive nature of consumerism” is bursting out of Greenfield’s photographic exposé. Money is portrayed as toxic and as addictive as sugar consumed to dull senses – another scourge of our society lacking overall discipline. The lack of control is noticeable everywhere: how much we buy, how much we eat, how much we nip and tuck on the operation table to look like people on TV…

Kathy, a bus driver, undergoing $15,000 worth of surgery that she tried paying with a personal loan “in order to be responsible and organized” despite her husband’s bankruptcy.

Bombarded by images from a very young age, young girls run the risk to never graduate from Disney Channel. The Princess brand enduring from age 2 till long into their pampered and high-maintenance adult life.


As the media have basically blurred the lines between entertainment and reality, what started as “reality TV” has hatched the current President of the United States! We end up with real and fake news and it’s so hard to tell which is which when politics are not that different from House of Cards!

So if Greenfield’s strong images are shocking, it’s because they are and they need to be. Our ability to absorb countless images everyday means our tolerance is higher and our reaction lower…It’s the numbing again…Greenfield’s photographs are real in the documentary sense. They are no reality TV shows.

So feeling shocked is a positive here. Being torn between attraction and repulsion when viewing Generation Wealth or the art of Koons means the compass of our values is still in thinking order. Not being shocked by those images would be the real danger, meaning the media succeeded in numbing and dumbing its audience…

So go see the exhibition, take your teenagers even, check their reaction and know they’re not at risk of joining or perpetuating the Generation Wealth.

Thank you to my friend Lisa B. for introducing me to the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield was on view at the Annenberg Space for Photography until August 13, 2017. It will be at the Oslo Nobel Peace Center from Feb 13 till August 20, 2018.

© 2017 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.

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