October 23, 2012

Political Advertisement: Antoni Muntadas and Marshall Reese 1952–2012

Vera List Center for Art and Politics

Still from television spot for 1952 Democratic Presidential Candidate Adlai Stevenson II.

“Sometime in the early 1950s Madison Avenue’s hucksters realized that they could sell political candidates like any other product, a throat lozenge or facial tissue.”
–Steve Seid, Fifty Years of Campaign Spots (Berkeley: Pacific Film Archive, 2000)

Five days before the 2012 U.S. presidential election, artists Antoni Muntadas and Marshall Reese present a new installment of their twenty-eight-year project Political Advertisement. Launched in 1984—and in each edition updated with new campaign advertisements—the project helps determine whether things have actually changed since the early ’50s when “guided by the cooing come-ons of the thirty-second TV spot, campaigns were soon reduced to photo ops, televised debates, and sound bites. Out was the whistle-stop tour and the scrappy convention, in was the instant poll and the attack ad.” (Steve Seid)

Starting with Eisenhower vs. Stevenson in 1952 and extending to Obama vs. McCain in 2008 and now Obama vs. Romney, taken together, the ads depict how the image of American presidential candidates has evolved over thirteen elections, and how advertising tactics such as negative ads, soft-sell techniques and emotionalism fundamentally changed the country’s electoral process. Political Advertisement includes rare—some never before seen—footage from the artists’ own archives, updated during every election since 1984. Compiled and edited by Muntadas and Reese, the stream of thirty-second TV spots runs without commentary for an hour. In the discussion that follows, the artists and Professor of Media Studies Carol Wilder will discuss how the development of televised media and electoral politics have become increasingly inseparable.

Antoni Muntadas, artist and Professor of the Practice, ACT/Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Marshall Reese, artist
Carol Wilder, Professor of Media Studies and Film, The New School for Public Engagement

Organized by Vera List Center for Art and Politics.
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