The exhibition, Embarrassment of Riches: Picturing Global Wealth, 2000-2010, opened last Thursday with a huge crowd in attendance. But one picture nearly didn’t make it for the opening. Annie Leibovitz’s photograph of Mikhail Gorbachev as a front man for luxury bags was M.I.A. to the MIA. It was sitting among many other packages on a runway in Milwaukee, WI, roughly 337 miles away. Ms. Leibovitz made a special print for the exhibition at the last minute and all was on schedule for a Wednesday arrival. Our framer was poised to create a matte, and frame the photograph for the show. Installation had set aside time to put up the work. But there was one unanticipated problem, engine trouble. Who knew that Fed Ex planes had mechanical problems? Well, one plane did last Tuesday. Fortunately, the photograph arrived at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, five hours before the opening. It was too late to frame, so we put it in a vitrine for the exhibition opening. Watch for a framed Gorbachev to appear in the galleries later this week.
Below is the wall label with more information on the Gorbachev photograph.
American, born 1949
Mikhail Gorbachev, Berlin, 2007 (printed for exhibition, 2010)
Archival pigment print
Courtesy Annie Leibovitz studio
This commercial advertisement for Louis Vuitton luxury handbags features Mikhail Gorbachev, the seventh and last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his role in ending the Cold War, sits in a limousine with a Louis Vuitton bag and a digitized image of the Berlin Wall looming in the background (the Berlin Wall came down eighteen years earlier in 1989). The image marks a cataclysmic shift in culture and politics, and inspired the exhibition, “Embarrassment of Riches: Picturing Global Wealth, 2000-2010.” Nearly twenty five years after former U.S. President Ronald Reagan declared the Soviet Union,“the evil empire,” few could have anticipated that its Cold War leader would one day agree to be a front man hawking luxury bags. During the Cold War, the advertisement would have been viewed as outrageous capitalist propaganda. What image would we have if the Soviet Union “won” the Cold War, a picture of Ronald Reagan in peasant garb surrounded by factory workers with a hammer and cycle in the background?