Pollock on Uniqlo T-Shirts: Appalling or Perfect?

Friday, May 09, 2014

You may not be able to afford a $20 million Andy Warhol painting, but don’t despair. You can get a $20 Warhol T-shirt.

In an unprecedented deal with Uniqlo, the Museum of Modern Art has given the clothing mega-retailer the right to reproduce dozens of its works.

The Gap — Uniqlo’s rival — is striking back with its own line of art T-shirts, displayed in a stylish “Gap White Space” at the Frieze Art Fair opening Friday on Randall's Island.

Art critic Deborah Solomon finds the idea appalling. "There is too much merchandise in the world already and I don't want the masterpieces in the Museum of Modern Art to be seen as just more merchandise," she said.

One of Solomon's concerns is that several paintings are cropped, so the T-shirt only displays a fragment of the work. Also, Uniqlo — which sponsors MoMA's free Friday nights every Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. — gets to decide what to feature, and they distribute the t-shirts worldwide.

Some artists don't like the idea either. Solomon said she spoke with the estate of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, and they told her they turned Uniqlo down.

However, the T-shirts do help spread awareness about pieces of art, Solomon said. "My goal as a critic is to live in a city, I would say, where every school child knows the difference between Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock," she said. "But that doesn't mean that the Museum of Modern Art needs to license its collection to a retailer."

Corporate sponsorship is nothing new for museums. Coffee maker Lavazza is currently sponsoring the Italian Futurism show at the Guggenheim and Volkswagen is paying for the Sigmar Polke show at MoMA. But Solomon says the deal with Uniqlo is different. "Here the sponsor Uniqlo is asking for something in return," she said.

Do you agree with Deborah? Do you find this idea appalling or perfect? Leave your comment below. 

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Comments [11]


Quite honestly, in an age when museums craft their 'brand' as carefully as they curate their exhibitions, when museum gift shops sell every type of gadget, postcard, and trinket imaginable with art images on them, and when social media and advertising appropriate works of art for commercial purposes, I cannot imagine anyone arguing against the venture between Uniqlo and MoMA and wishing to be taken seriously. Unless she is calling for the cessation of all of the above practices (and more!), Ms. Solomon's stance is highly inconsistent.

I am far more appalled by the admission price and crowds at MoMA than I am about a cropped image of one of Basquiat's works.

By the way, where are these t-shirts being made? Are workers being exploited? Great art endures; save the moral outrage for the human misery caused by our culture of consumerism.

May. 12 2014 01:43 AM
Nancy from NY

I feel like I should be horrified, for all the reasons discussed here. But I'm not. Bring on the art, guys. I bought my daughter a t-shirt with a Frida Kahlo self-portrait on the front when she was about five years old. She wore that sucker for so many years, even when it was clearly too small for her, including a triumphant visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where we took her for a Kahlo Retrospective when she was about eight. She was completely obsessed with Kahlo and wearing the t-shirt made for some amazing conversations with passersby and others. Every time she wore it to school, more kids were introduced to Kahlo as an artist.

Now she's twelve, and if I could find a Pollock t-shirt for her, I would buy it in a heartbeat. It sure beats the other dreck girls are wearing to her middle school, like "I'm the texting princess", etc.

May. 11 2014 08:30 PM
jdbranigan from Maplewood, NJ

I think this is a bad idea for two principal reasons:

(1) MOMA and UNIGLO are collecting the revenue, not the artists.

(2) It's already a distortion to learn about art from reproductions, rather than from experience of the artwork. This "iconization" is another step away, elevating recognition of the art/artist IDENTITY over actual experience of the ARTWORK. May be OK for commercialism, but is bad for understanding Art.

May. 09 2014 01:10 PM
Deborah Solomon from WNYC

Hey everyone, Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
To smloges and art 525 from Park Slope: I agree with you that the concept of merchandising was mastered long ago by Warhol & Company. But it seems to me that the function of a museum is not to contribute to consumerist mania but rather to give us an understanding of all that is NOT mass-produced -- meaning, those singular, one-of-a-kind objects that take the form of painting and sculpture.
I don't feel the T-shirts contribute to art education because the images (as adapted by Uniqlo, anyhow) have been cropped so dramatically you can't identify the original work they're from. Instead of releasing its images to a commercial retailer, I would like to see MoMA participate in the open access project that is now underway at the Getty and other museums. It provides the public -- not just Uniqlo -- with high-reproduction images of artwork at no cost, and serves the interests of art education and scholarship.

May. 09 2014 12:20 PM

I couldn't agree more with 'art525 from Park Slope.'

May. 09 2014 11:22 AM

There was no mention of who actually makes the shirts: members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, sweatshop workers in Bangladesh, political prisoners in China?

May. 09 2014 10:48 AM
art525 from Park Slope

I think that if Ms Solomon is concerned about the merchandising of art she might look in the direction of the artists themselves, people like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons whose whole M.O. is merchandising. Whose whole careers are nothing but a hustle. There is nothingelse to their work. . And unfortunately that is the pervasive trend in the contemporary art world. And who is probably the most responsible for that trend, who was the granddaddy? Andy Warhol. Remember that quote of his? -
"Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."
Warhol played his game and I think he would be fine with his work being on t-shirts. Well if he got paid for them that is. And if he had a problem with it that would be the height of hypocrisy.
Today's art world is all about business, whether it is the omnipresent "art fairs" like Basel or the museums needing to constantly expand like megacorporations. And look at the Guggenheim who under the direction of Thomas Krens franchised museum outposts all over the world. Even a Las Vegas casino. Business. Impure and simple. Maybe Ms Solomon is concerned because this makes it so obvious what is going on.
And as far as corporate sponsorship goes let's not forget Target's First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum.

May. 09 2014 09:26 AM
Shaw from new york

Featuring art on t shirt is good idea. It is a way of reaching out to broader and younger audiences. A gateway, a means of getting younger people involved and talking about art. T Shirts are a popular canvas or expression at all levels. So why not.

May. 09 2014 08:57 AM
lia from Carmel, NY

She mentioned at least twice that women were not represented. I dont believe that there was a conscious or unconscious decision to leave women, or any other "group" out of the choices. That made my eyes roll frankly. As retailers and in sales, they chose the artwork that would sell on a tee shirt. Now, I think that art anywhere that can be seen and perhaps start a conversation about it, is a great idea. Even cropped art is fine. Norman Rockwell coffee mugs, Whistler's mother on birthday cards...copies of art is everywhere and the tee shirts sound fun. I am actually going to go check them out for myself. If it replaces designs like mustaches and skull and crossbones, I'm happy.

May. 09 2014 08:44 AM
George from Queens

Art on t-shirts is bad, but female artists are under-represented? I took art appreciation in school- a course run by a woman (maybe neither here nor there...) That curriculum included discussions of two female artists. Georgia O'Keefe was one- her flowers would look great on anything, btw :)

Deborah S. is all over the place with her hm, argument. I understand that even though she doesn't like the marketing campaign, she understands that parties involved like it and thus should have included more woman artists... fine. But she - Deborah S. - hates the campaign. And she still would like more woman artists included, their work "cannibalized?!"

I actually understand Lichtenstein's estate's standpoint. Some one spent days, weeks, years agonizing over every detail to make a finished product. That product was intended to be appreciated as a whole and as is. Even if that part wasn't made explicit, it's on us to assume that. But then, shouldn't we say bullet dodged for the women?

May. 09 2014 07:45 AM

i'm not sure where to comment on the " Pollock on Uniqlo T-Shirts: Appalling or Perfect? " topic.. but in my opinion, i believe it to be a wonderful idea, in theory. if a Bosch Prince, Rothko, Warhol or Whomever gets mass produced/printed on t-shirts- great! this educates the next generation as to who these artists are. kids growing up today are submergerd in their dumb smart phones, and do not care to know art history or any history. so if they learn thru a t-shirt , good.
on the bad side, the GAP is a rubbish company , mass producing it's garments in slave shops - their clothes stitched together in indonesia by 11 year old slave making 79¢ a week. i suggest , make the shirts in america damn it!!!!
that is my opinion, if anyone cares, on the art on t-shirt issue.

May. 09 2014 07:40 AM

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