Last Night: "This One's for You" at the Soulard Art Market
What You Missed: An artistic tribute to the King of Beers, featuring the advertising memorabilia of Jack L. Smith, an illustrator/graphic designer at Anheuser-Busch from 1988-1990.
Where: Soulard Art Market, 2028 S. 12th Street, in what used to be a neighborhood clinic.
Better Than: Trying to figure out how Don Draper from "Mad Men" would have used Michael Phelps to sell Budweiser.
I spoke with Thomas Shepard for quite some time Friday night. He's one of the fourteen artists who makes up the sort of art co-op at the Soulard Art Market. I was there for "This One's for You," a show exhibiting old Anheuser-Busch advertising materials alongside art inspired by the brewery and its products, but had wandered back into one of the many rooms housing art by those fourteen Art Market members. We talked mostly about his art, but we touched on something that really highlighted the difference between the art in the back rooms and the stuff that had originated on a drafting board in the A-B corporate offices. "I try to keep from telling people what to think through my art," Thomas confided in me. "I don’t like to be too explicit or force people into a narrow thought."
And while I appreciated the skill and, even aesthetic beauty, of the airbrushed portraits of glistening Budweiser cans and Michelob Dry bottles, I realized that this work, art though it my be, had a very narrow focus. And it worked. I wanted a beer.
So I wandered over to the reception desk covered with bowls of chips and other snacks (the salsa came with a handwritten note announcing that some people found it to be hot.) I dodged a couple of bored-looking kids, one of whom was quite literally bouncing of the walls, albeit slowly and in a geometric pattern. Even the children in Soulard are artsy.
I requested a Budweiser (they were surprisingly out of Mic Dry) and was given a can gratis; the only stipulation was that I pull of the tab and donate it to a collection container on the counter. Simple enough, though I haven't pulled can tabs since grade school. I flicked them off in high school and haven’t bothered with them since college. Having received the Bud which was for me, I dove back into the main gallery room to check out the art in earnest. Most of it was of the "inspired by" variety and ranged from photos of Busch stadium, to paintings of Clydesdale ponies and dalmatian puppies. Most inspired civic-pride warm-fuzzies, although some, like a series of photos which showed littered beer cans at the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area, showed the dark side of liberal imbibing.
But my attention was continually drawn to the advertising materials.
Why is it that angled images of beer bottles are more appealing than straight shots?
Who decided that all beverage containers look better covered in condensation?
At what point did people think that a cartoon superhero was the best way to sell an adult beverage?
I discussed the intricacies of Bud Man with a fellow guest, a bit older than me, who remembered a time when marketing beer to children was an industry-wide phenomenon. "I had a shirt with the same character on it, only he was from Pabst, I think he was called Big Blue. My brother had one with a giraffe playing baseball that was for Miller High Life. I remember he put that on after his first communion." And you thought the frogs were bad.
The mood of the evening was playful and light; much of the ambiance provided by Nicole Adams' constantly upbeat pop covers on acoustic guitar. There was dancing, drinking, conversations about the unfair illegality of pot (damn you William Randolph Hearst, damn you to hell) but the crowd was generally silent on the subject of the A-B’s sale to InBev.
While the evening could easily be seen as a jilted city going back once more to our ex who’s just dumped us to give him a farewell footrub, who's to say that can't be enjoyed? It’s hard to pick up a Bud in this city without feeling a little guilty about it, but last night, maybe it was just the eclectic style of the show or the power of advertising on my simple mind, I was proud to go up to the desk and ask for another audience with the King.