Coca-Cola Pop Art Gallery: Micha Klein, Pioneer of the Digital Image Culture

Micha Klein graduated from the Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, in 1989 as the first artist to receive a BA in computer graphics. The same year, Klein started exhibiting his gigantic photographic panels in prestigious galleries around the world.

Klein was already known as a successful VJ and experienced a breakthrough on the international club scene before he made it as an artist. Pioneer of the VJ-scene, Micha Klein introduced his rhythmic editing of computer graphics and video images at the first Acid house parties in 1988. In the nineties, he introduced the VJ concept in Ibiza, where he held a residency in legendary club Pacha. The rest of the world would follow fast. Over the years, Klein has seen how things have technically evolved and how the VJ-scene has boomed: “The new equipment and software create new possibilities. We live in a multimedia age, so we can’t live on music alone anymore. Visuals will become an integral part of electronic culture, and in the future DJ’s will become Media Jockey’s” (note: with this 90’s quote, Micha proved to be a real visionary – anno 2008, the age of the Media Jockey has begun with tools as the Pioneer SVM 1000).

In 1998, the Groninger Museum honored him with a retrospective dedicated to 10 years of his graphic production and videos. In 2003, Klein was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the international VJ scene during the AVIT UK summit.

Klein’s artworks are a significant crossover between art, multimedia, video art, VJing, marketing and advertising. They attract attention for their digital approach, surrealistic shapes & objects and bright colors and tell stories of a world that revisits pop art and culture. Klein doesn’t portray reality; he likes to create his own reality.
With his computer manipulated images and psychedelic computer palette, Klein explores the media based culture of our time. He mixes music, club culture, fashion, beauty and mass media to create a wondrous universe somewhere between dream and reality.

The people and landscapes in his artworks are just too beautiful & perfect. They appear unreal, even unearthly. In his series ‘Artificial Beauty’ (1998), Klein generated a new fictitious generation of beautiful young people, taking over the top the all too perfect beings and settings we encounter in advertisements.
By doing so, Klein also shows that today’s photography has no more to do with reality than other types of images. Even the most stunning models are given a Photoshop make-over. The end result is highly artificial, and comments on the aspects of society that Klein finds fascinating yet problematic such as artificial beauty and plastic surgery.

The aesthetics of advertising and elements of everyday and popular culture have always been an integrated element Klein’s art, and he brings everything that is usable over from this world. In true pop art tradition, Micha Klein is a big but critical fan of the techniques and concepts of advertising. Just like Damien Hirst, Klein believes that art must compete with commercial and spectacular expressions: “My work must be as seductive as advertising and entertainment. If not, it loses its visibility in a culture saturated by media, constantly bombarding us with commercial messages. Since these messages have become part of the mainstream culture, it is vital that artists especially can infiltrate this culture with their subversive ideas.”

Over the last years, Micha Klein has worked in clubs around the world and collaborated with superstar DJ Tiësto on visuals for his live-sets and created background projections for Eminem’s concert tour, based on his notorious character Pillman. Klein also did all the artworks for the Dutch dance festival Mysteryland, designed the animations for Jacky Chan’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ movie and did commercial work for companies and brands as Swatch, Philips, Endemol, KPN, Mustang Jeans, Heineken, Hugo Boss and Samsung.

For his first Coca-Cola commercial, Micha Klein managed to put in a girl in a ‘Make Love, Not War’ T-shirt (just before the 2nd Gulf war), a boy wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt the war and girls licking each others faces. The video with music by Monte La Rue, introducing Coca-Cola’s new visual identity by Desgrippes Gobé, was sold to 25 Coca-Cola markets, a lot in Central and South America.

Klein’s commercial jobs and his works of art have a number of parallels in form & content: “It’s fun to stretch the image of a company in directions they never would imagine, to sort of pile your own layer of meaning on top of theirs, to inject some of my own ideas”.
Klein always tries to inject some of his own ideas in his commercial work. “I try to talk to the client and tell them they should transform their strategy to become a ‘good company’, to be closer to their consumers and do community projects. Give back to the people… I think in the future companies will be judged on that”.
By doing commercial assignments, Klein can finance his own art, and is not dependent on government subsidies, which gives him more freedom.

The music & club culture is still a key component in Klein’s work; at times he prefers the unceremonious gathering at clubs to the seriousness of galleries or museums.
For the Coca-Cola commercial “Bubble Dream Girl”, Klein could combine his passion for dance floors and advertising. The clip was shot in Malaga on 35mm, with a 50 people crew and 80 extras. Graphics & special effects were added in post production and his friend Tiësto did the soundtrack.

Last year (2007), ‘Speeding on the Virtual Highway’, a documentary about Micha Klein’s life & work was shown at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Director Corinne van Egeraat follows Klein as he works on his his new art series. This unique time document shows us how fast digital developments go and how quickly the times they are a-changin’, especially in the case of Klein’s creative way of living.

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Keith Haring, Art For All People

Keith Haring, who died of HIV related complications at the age of 31, would have celebrated his 50th anniversary in 2008. This is commemorated with several events and expositions all over the world.

Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, USA and was raised in nearby Kutztown. From a very young age, Keith developed a love for drawing – learning some cartoon techniques from his father, Walt Disney cartoons and his favorite comics.
After Keith graduated from high school, he went to the Ivy School of Professional Art, where he took some courses in commercial & fine art. He quickly realized that he had little interest in becoming a commercial graphic designer, so he dropped out of school and left for New York.

Soon, Haring’s talent was recognized in the NYC underground, where his newly invented trademark figures as the radiant babies, barking dogs and flying saucers could be daily seen by thousands of passengers. The NYC subways became his studio, using the black ad boards as his canvas. Haring made it a point to keep his drawings fast & simple so even passengers catching only a glimpse could still understand it.

Keith Haring was swept up in the spirit & energy of the underground art scene and began to organize and participate in group shows as CoLab and exhibitions at alternative venues as Club 57.
He became friends with fellow artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf; graffiti artists such as Lee, Fab Five Fred and LA II; pop stars Madonna and Grace Jones; teenage heroes Timothy Leary and William Burroughs.
Keith’s artistic idol, Andy Warhol, was the theme of several of Haring’s artworks. Here you can see “Andy Mouse”, a tribute to his Pop Art Trinity: Warhol, Disney and Coca-Cola.

The recognition gained in the New York underground scene allowed Keith Haring to establish contact with the international art world, and by the time of his death in 1990, his talent was recognized by the most prestigious galleries and museums in the world.
Between 1980 and 1990, Haring participated in over 100 group and solo exhibitions as Documenta in Kassel and the Whitney and São Paulo Biennial.
During these years, Keith Haring also completed a lot of public projects, ranging from designing decors for theaters and clubs, an animated billboard on Times Square, posters for the Mandela concert, an ad campaign for Absolut Vodka, watch designs for Swatch and murals worldwide.
Keith’s iconic people, babies, dogs, angels, monsters, televisions, computers, cartoon figures, pyramids, … became signs of the times.

Throughout his career, Haring devoted much of his time to public works, which often carried social messages. He produced over 70 public artworks, many of which were created for children’s centers, hospitals and other charity causes.

By expressing universal concepts, using bold lines and bright colors, Keith Haring was able to attract a global audience. Today, the power of his imagery is still intact and his “art for all people” is universally recognized as one of the strongest pop expressions of the 20th century.

In 1989, the Keith Haring Foundation was established. The mandate of the Foundation was to provide funding and imagery for AIDS organizations as well as children’s organizations. Even though the master behind the creations has long gone, Haring’s much adored style and messages are still alive.

The Ludwig Museum Art in Budapest contributes to the Keith Haring celebration with a unique exhibition organized in co-operation with the Keith Haring Foundation. The expo runs from August 15 – November 16, 2008. More info on http://www.lumu.hu & http://www.haring.com

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