Giles Keeble: let’s find out if creative teams can be conceptual artists too

I went recently to the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy, well worth seeing with some wonderful things. It was hard not to compare it to Damien Hirst’s show a few years ago at the Tate.

Both Weiwei and Hirst are conceptual artists and use a variety of materials. I believe the idea that anything can be art goes back to the early 20th century.

But can anyone be an artist? Years ago, when the Saatchi Gallery was in Boundary Road, I bumped into Tony Kaye having not seen him for a while. Tony had been trying to get his extraordinary Dunlop TV ad into the Tate. “I hear you’re an artist now Tony!” “Giles,” he replied “if you wake up in the morning and say you’re a fucking artist, then you’re a fucking artist.”

Both Hirst and Weiwei have studios of people to make their artworks. Both purport to say something about something with their work. I think the main difference between the two is that Weiwei has much more to say and greater depth. Even then, the problem with a witty or shock piece is that once you get it, then what? Weiwei has an ancient pot on which he has painted the Coca Cola logo. Ok, I get it. Hirst had a giant ashtray full of giant fag-ends. Fine.
han-dynasty-urn-with-coca-cola-logo-1994-by-ai-weiwei-1341288412_b

It was this piece that led me to think that a good advertising team could probably come up with some equally interesting work. After all, concepts are what we do. This is not to dismiss these artists, but it is a personal view that not everything they do is wonderful. (For me, Weiwei wins hands down.)

So here is my challenge to any sponsors or art galleries who may be reading this (unlikely I know): let’s choose some teams from a few ad agencies and give them separate briefs- migration, say; climate change, freedom of speech, sexism, racism – and see what they come up with.

There should of course be a prize.

See you at The White Cube.

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About Giles Keeble

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Giles Keeble started as a rep (account man) at JWT before moving to BMP. There Stanley Pollitt told him that JWT’s Stephen King had wanted him to become a planner. John Webster encouraged him to become a writer but after a number of years Giles moved to French Gold Abbott and, for a while, did become a planner of sorts. Returning to writing he went to David Abbott’s new agency AMV followed by WCRS and was then ECD of Leo Burnett for six years. He then returned to AMV before moving to Publicis and then Lowe in Hong Kong at the inception of the ‘World’s Local Bank’ campaign for HSBC. He now works as a writer and strategist as well as running advertising courses for senior clients.