Absolut ... perfume?
For Andy Warhol, yes. Back in 1985, the pale prince of pop art confessed to the Swedish vodka’s importer that he preferred a splash of Absolut to anything by Chanel.
“He went on to say that he loved the design of the Absolut bottle, and he wanted to paint something,” recounts art curator Marion Kahan. Warhol delivered a dark rendition of the Absolut bottle — and an unlikely art collection was launched.
“The Warhol” was quickly joined by an assortment of Absolut-centric works: a Keith Haring painting, a Gianni Versace dress, a Steven Meisel photograph. The priceless collection now numbers about 700 items, all based on the familiar Absolut bottle.
“Big, small, we’ve got a little bit of everything,” says Kahan, who assumed control of the collection a decade ago. “We’ve got a guitar. We have a surfboard back there.”
The assortment of paintings, sculptures, furniture, photographs and jewelry was inspired by the liquor company’s much-praised ad campaign: Absolut (fill-in-the-blank). The Absolut series of ads, launched when the company entered the U.S. market 25 years ago, continues today with the vodka bottle still its centerpiece.
“The print ads, the artwork, have a level of intelligence and inclusiveness,” Kahan says. It is an opinion echoed by advertising executive Jerry Della Femina.
“The ads are so consumer friendly that everybody thinks they can do an Absolut ad,” Della Femina says. “That’s the toughest thing in the world — to make it look easy.”
Bottle always featuredThe irreplaceable collection, which rarely appears in public, is kept in a storage facility on the eighth floor of a nondescript building on a nondescript Manhattan street. Inside a temperature-controlled room, with its brick walls painted white, the works stretch from floor to ceiling.
Kahan, a petite, silver-haired woman, knows the collection intimately. Haring’s work features his signature cookie-cutter figures, painted in red against a yellow background, reaching up toward an Absolut bottle.
There’s an Absolut quilt — two, in fact. Absolut-themed jewelry is produced from cardboard boxes stacked inside a plain, gray filing cabinet. A plastic bag barely big enough to hold a bologna sandwich is unsealed, and a tiny, silver Gucci bikini emerges.
At the other end of the size spectrum, artist Nam June Paik created a six-foot-high, multicolored neon installation in the shape of a bottle. It was the first commissioned piece of the 21st century.
The artwork may surface later this year, in an exhibit later held at Absolut’s hometown of Ahus, Sweden, company officials said.
All artists are given a single instruction: The bottle has to be in the work. No surprise there, since the company spent a bit of time and effort on its design.
The company considered more than 20 different bottle designs before entering the American market, finally settling on the shape of a traditional Swedish medicine bottle found in a Stockholm antique store.
The bottle subsequently appeared in more than 1,000 advertisements and became the focal point of the art collection. A gold-topped version, with a special inscription, will join the collection as the one billionth bottle of Absolut produced.