By on October 29, 2012

Chinese performance and graphic artist Liu Bolin is known as the invisible man. He has himself photographed after he’s dressed and painted himself to almost completely blend into the background.  Besides any deeper philosophical implications about the state of man in his work, the photographs are visually arresting and wryly clever. Someone at Ford or their ad agency must also be clever because they got an inspired idea: hire Bolin to make the dramatically styled 2013 Ford Fusion stand out in consumers’ minds by painting the Fusion’s competitors into the background. I think it’s a brilliant concept, but then I’ve used the portmanteau Camcordata myself to describe the relatively indistinguishable cars in the midsize sedan market. Making the Fusion’s competitors literally blend into the background effectively gets the message across that the Fusion is different. Do you agree?

All rights Liu Bolin.

Andy Warhol painted pictures of soup cans. Liu Bolin paints himself as soup cans.

Art and commerce have always been inextricably linked. In recent years collectors of fine automotive art have started to appreciate the original commercial art used in advertising, like Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman drew for Pontiac in the 1960s, and there are the famous BMW art cars, but it’s really an old tradition. When the great (and large, too) 1910 Oldsmobile Limited, rolling 42s, was able to beat out the 20th Century Limited train in a race from Albany to New York City, the Oldsmobile company commissioned artist William Harnden Foster to paint what has become known as Setting The Pace. They continued to use it and updated versions (as car models changed) of the painting for over a decade. The company also distributed lithographic copies on canvas known as “oiliographs”. One copy is in the collection of the National Automotive History Collection of the Detroit Public Library, donated by Oldsmobile. Last year one of those oiliograph prints sold at Bonhams for $1,464 (including premium). That’s more than a lot of actual Oldsmobiles are worth.

William Harnden Foster is still appreciated as an artist. His paintings sell from the mid four to the high five figures. In general, Bolin’s  prints are not worth quite as much as Foster’s works, but they do have a ready market and sell for thousands of dollars each. A Liu Bolin commission for something like the Ford ad shoot must cost many times that amount.

So why would Ford take the expense of paying Bolin’s commission to hand paint the other cars and the cost of setting up the photo shoots when it all could have  been done digitally (as opposed to manually – but then he’s using his digits when he paints isn’t he?) with some CGI effects?  According to Bolin, passion and authenticity.

“My work can be done on the computer without the use of paint, but computers cannot convey emotions. That is something that the artist captures with his paintbrush.”

Working with a famous artist can also give a company a touch of class. Besides, not every automotive and advertising executive wants to hang around jocks. Some have a taste for fine art as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if executives at Ford (or their ad agency) ended up with signed and numbered prints of the finished ad shoots.

Since we’re discussing the intersection where Art  Hwy meets Commerce Rd, it should come as no surprise that Ford has also posted  a “making of” video of Bolin setting up and painting the installations on YouTube . They also issued a press release.

Ford press release here.

*Tip O’ the hat to the late, great Stan Freberg.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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14 Comments on “*Ars Gratia Pecuniae: Artist Liu Bolin, Who Normally Makes Himself Disappear, Makes Ford Fusion Stand Out...”

  • avatar

    “So why would Ford take the expense of paying Bolin’s commission to hand paint the other cars and the cost of setting up the photo shoots when it all could have been done digitally with some CGI effects?”

    Who would talk about the campaign if they did it with CGI?

  • avatar

    creative, I like it.

  • avatar

    Stan Freberg isn’t dead.

    Also, for those wondering, “ars gratia pecuniae” translates as “art for money’s sake”.

  • avatar

    That’s creative.

    I’ve seen for the first time 2013 Fusion SE on the road west of Toronto yesterday. It does look good, other then useless mail slot trunk lid (should have been a notchback, like a 1st generation of Mazda6) and they could have used orange instead of red LED’s in turn signals at the back of the car.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah i agree on the trunk opening. I guess that’s the price for that sweeping roofline. I may look at one next year to replace my 05 Escape, but if i can’t get my camping gear in that opening it’s a no go. As far as the red LED turn signals, Americans associate orange turn signals with cheap foreign cars. That’s why you see many of the premium German brands are now using red LED turn signals in the US whenthey’re orange in their home market.

    • 0 avatar

      I too saw my first Ford Fusion out in the wild today here in Brazil (as opposed to in ics or static on-display fashion). It looked gourgeous and a breath of fresh air among the same old. Quite striking the front and back.

      While the first thing I saw was the humongous opening in the front, I realized that maybe due to the car’s headlights or the size of the car, it really doesn’t look too disproportional.

      Another nice touch and it called my attention was a small detail. I loved the very small Ford logo on the hood. I usually like logos on hoods so that’s maybe why I noticed it. After I noticed, I also realized how small and tasteful it was. In an era of oversized logos (on grilles, hoods and backs), I thought, “understatedly elegant”. I hope it starts a trend.

    • 0 avatar

      Coincidentally, I saw a new Fusion shortly after seeing an actual Aston on the same road. No more than 15 seconds between them. I kind of wish I’d seen them in the opposite order, as the Fusion looked like an Aston that’s been over-inflated.

      I think that if I’d seen the Fusion first, I wouldn’t have this impression that the car has a really fat mid section and that the nose is truncated. It’s almost as if the Fusion were meant to be a (bad) parody of the Aston…

      Regardless, the ad sounds interesting, but nothing about the concept of it really breaks any ground. How many times have advertisers tried to figure out how to relegate the competition to the background?

    • 0 avatar

      The Mondeo Hatchback would solve that problem, but despite the success of the Fiesta hatches, Ford is still convinced that Americans don’t like hatchbacks.

    • 0 avatar

      @ MBSam

      but Canadians do like hatchbacks. And, as I said earlier, Ford could have made it a notchback, – looking like a 1st generation of Mazda6, – to most people it looks like a sedan, yet rear glass opens.

  • avatar

    The ad campaign is brilliant. I like it, and I think it will be a big hit.

    They could not have done it digitally. Too many people have seen Liu Bolin’s work, and doing it digitally would not have looked right. It would have come across as a cheap copy-cat.

  • avatar

    Are they saying that even in silver paint, a new Fusion will stand out? Or did they miss the point entirely.

  • avatar

    Lol did they really put an Audi in the background in addition to a Camry and Passat?

    Interesting to see who Ford sees the Fusion competing against – the established winner of the midsize segment, a solid upstart (the previous Passats had a niche market), and a luxury sedan. I suppose that’s to make the fusion, by virtue of comparison, to look more premium.

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