PRINT February 1994


I STILL REMEMBER that jingle and how sinister it sounded to me: “Fall into the Gap.” It was worse than the U2 song “I will follow.” It made me think of the abyss. Later I would be troubled by the slogan “For every generation there’s a Gap.” There’s nothing overtly evil about it, but the ambiguity of this line nagged at me. Are generation gaps good?

But over the years, as the Gap clothing-store chain evolved and grew into a new kind of retail operation, not to mention a philosophy of life, I came to accept and patronize it. There’s much to like about the Gap. The quality is good, the price is right. It even had a historic impact because it embodied a sort of back-to-basics revolt against designerism and new hope for indebted fashion victims. It made basic hip.

As for their famous advertising campaign “Individuals of Style”—the one featuring real people of varying degrees of realness wearing Gap clothing the way they alone wear it—I thought it was darn effective. All kinds of accomplished people wearing Gap clothes proved that you didn’t have to be able to afford Armani or Chanel to dress like the stars.

But to me the greatest Gap ads are the unauthorized parodies: the “Jim Morrison at 50” Gap ad from Esquire, the Los Angeles Times’ “Hitler Wore Denim” piece, and Art Club 2000’s “Commingle” exhibition at American Fine Arts Co. in New York last summer. The Morrison Gap ad was an uninvited addition to the famous Gap celebrity campaign. A 50-something Morrison, bloated but sober in his pocket T, was listed as a poet and substance-abuse counselor. The Los Angeles Times piece was a goof on the Gap’s khakis campaign, which features photographs of historical figures in their chinos: James Dean wore khakis. Hemingway wore khakis. Picasso wore khakis. Etc. When the Times pointed out that Hitler wore khakis the Gap responded by pulling their advertising from the Times Magazine.

Art Club 2000 had their own conflict with the corporation as a result of their show. The exhibition included shots of the group wearing matching outfits courtesy of the Gap’s “no-hassle” return policy, “appropriations” of Gap display materials, and an “Individuals of Style Portrait Center” where patrons could commission their own Gap ad. The gallery walls were stenciled with directives from Gap literature, such as “Every customer will have their needs determined and merchandise suggested to meet those needs.”

But what specifically drew the ire of the Gap was an advertisement for their show, placed by American Fine Arts Co. in this magazine, that mocked a Gap ad and, in fact, included the Gap logo. A cease-and-desist letter from the Gap’s law department stated that the ad was trademark infringement, “actionable under the Lanham Act, the Copyright Act and the California unfair competition law.” Although I doubt that any Gap customers made accidental purchases at American Fine Arts Co., the Gap’s legal department was concerned that consumers might somehow assume that the Gap had approved the use of its logo and image. This is possible and I understand that the Gap attorneys were just doing their job. Were I™ in their shoes I probably would have done the same Thing®.

The seven young artists who constitute Art Club 2000 also applied for jobs at the Gap (they were unsuccessful) and collected and documented the trash produced by Gap locations throughout Manhattan. In the course of these investigations they discovered interoffice memos, employee evaluation forms, employee telephone numbers, clothing, $16 in cash, a William Gibson novel, unopened letters from Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and the Gap loss-prevention handbook. They also found that the Gap apparently does not recycle paper or packing materials, which is fairly naughty but is probably not unique in the industry.

Art Club 2000’s freewheeling corporate investigation combines the elegant muck-racking of Hans Haacke with a groovy Pop art sensibility. It makes fun. And if artists aren’t going to make fun of artily positioned institutions, who’s going to do it?

One of the club’s members, Sarah Rossiter, stated the group’s goals: “To have the reigns of power handed over to us, and to be viewed as generational spokesmodels. We wanted people to view us as a group intent on being observed as well as innocent, dynamic and perverse.” Obviously they succeeded on all counts, with the exception of having the reigns of power handed over to them, but this was, after all, their first show. Perhaps the most successful aspect of their Gap investigation was their rigorous exploitation of ambiguity. It would have been easy for the group to fall into the gap of faux-Marxist pouting often practiced by Comme des Garçons-wearing semioticians. Instead they presented the problem of the Gap with an honest ambivalence that would well serve anyone involved in creative criticism.

Glenn O’Brien

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