9 November 2005

Blue Plate Special

Kimberly from Australia emails:

“[I am writing] to see if you have a copy of Tibor Kalman’s ‘Fuck Bush. Vote’ poster. Reading your post today about the bilingual poster for the NYC elections made me remember Tibor’s and would love to see it.”

Here you go. A shot of page 75 in Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist:

Tibor Kalman Poster

Before his famous “political advertising” for Benetton, Kalman and his company M&Co created such at the behest of Florent Morellet, owner of the eponymous bistro in the meatpacking district.

The text on the page above reads:

“After the death of a close friend, and collaborator Larry Rosenberg, in 1987, after a prolonged struggle with AIDS (and a medical profession caught unawares), Kalman and Morellet produced a joint advertisement with the Society for the Right to Die, and, increasingly after this, Florent advertising and publicity became a vehicle for political messages. These included invitations to donate money or time to the homeless over Christmas, and an ad that ridiculed vice-president Dan Quayle for his spelling abilities.

‘I decided that if I was going to spend money on advertising I was going to do political advertising; it had to be more than saying my food is the best,’ says Morellet. ‘Having a social message was a way to feel that I was not wasting my money.’

Kalman: ‘Most things we did for Florent he liked, and when you have that relationship, you do great work, because it becomes your responsibility to make sure the ads work and that you respect the person who is trusting you. He did, however, reject our call to vote poster.’

Florent Morellet: ‘It was very stormy working with Tibor. I’m a pushy person and he’s a pushy person. We had a few fights about design. I was not the quiet client.... As for the Fuck Bush, Vote poster, there’s a limit to that. At the time everybody was saying ‘fuck’ every other word. It became boring, like ‘you see.’’

Scott Stowell (designer): ‘For three years I ate Florent food for lunch everyday except Friday. For a long time it was family style; we would have no idea what we were getting, so it might be roast chicken one day and huge tins of borscht the next. Once in a while we’d do an office party at the restaurant. That was the arrangement. They brought us food and we gave them ads, and everybody was happy.’”

Florent has a history of community engagement. In 2003, with preservationist Jo Hamilton, he helped earn landmark recognition for the Gansevoort Historic District.

The context of the Florent ads, arising from rage and personal loss, and even the barter arrangement, make the feel a lot less crass and gratuitously provocative than Kalman’s later work for Benetton.

See previous posts Half Empty on Tibor and Commodify Your Dissent on merchant politics.