Saturday, April 18, 2009

Breathing friendly: Tom Friedman and Listerine

Not long ago, while reading Freakonomics (like any good University of Chicago alumn), I learned of the marketing genius behind THE mouthwash brand Listerine. Originally a surgical antiseptic, Listerine was also sold as a cleaning product and an STD cure before becoming the mouthwash we all know and dread spending those burning 30 seconds with today. The point popular non-fiction and New York Times bloggers Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner make about this fine minty product is that once it decided to become a mouthwash, Listerine invented bad breath in order to cure it. Before Listerine, people didn't worry about halitosis, but since its rise to prominence, we can't seem to worry about it enough.

But what does this all have to do with art? Enter alumn of Washington University in St Louis (my other alma mater), artist Tom Friedman, the flowing-locked fellow seen above smearing toothpaste on the wall of the Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. One of my all time favorite museum shows, The Kemper Art Museum's Pure Invention in 2006 featured a whimsical mix of Freidman's humorous, serious, and unusual installations including Untitled [Toothpaste on Wall], 1989. The swirly turquiose "painting" was like a mintier Yves Klein work; a beautifully handled square of blue whose minty scent was the only clue to its material content. It remains the only time in my memory I've stood in a museum and had the smell of a work bring it an entirely different meaning.

So what have we learned today? With enough creativity and branding, floor cleaner can become mouthwash, while toothpaste can become high art. Way to make Washington University's Art School look good, Tom. All the starving artists out there who graduated from WUSTL before and since your matriculation appreciate it.

1 comment:

  1. Hey this is Allie's friend Hanna. I saw a Willian Pope L. show at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art some time ago in which he utilized many, many hot dogs that were nailed or somehow attached to a map of the U.S. This took place in summertime and the hot dogs had been up there for awhile. One could smell it OUTSIDE. I think they ended up closing the show because of the stench. It was a great show (maybe even because of this!) and I miss PICA's visual programming.