Mars Attacks! Artist Robert Mars Comments on the Cult of Celebrity and Brand Names

After looking at his work, one might imagine that Robert Mars’ studio is stacked with vintage magazines and choice magazine clippings. His multimedia collages are, after all, layered palimpsests of icons, advertisements, and isolated (these days, read: ironic) phrases pulled from 1940s, ’50s and ’60s publications.

Considering today’s rapidly evolving advertising output, nostalgia can be a welcome reprieve from, and able boost to, big name brands. Mars plays with the powerful effects of anachronistic imagery in works that use golden age references to stir up contemporary connotations. Working in the Pop Art tradition, his subjects shift between celebrities and brands, insinuating that the two are not so dissimilar. In “MARS ATTACKS!,” on view at Joanne Artman Gallery, the artist enlarges and manipulates images of Audrey Hepburn and Kate Moss alongside Chanel No. 5 and Mobil logos to comment on systems of luxury culture.

In Ready to Serve Audrey Hepburn, a large-scale image of a coy Hepburn is paired with a Tiffany and Co. tag and, more subversively, an excerpt from a Heublein Premixed Cocktails ad that reads “ready to serve.” The juxtaposition suggests that the actress is serving the product, or perhaps morphing into a branded, ersatz version of herself.

Finally First Class Chanel magnifies the iconic Chanel perfume bottle and adorns it with a cast of phrases and images—most prominently, “the most treasured name in perfume.” By fusing the luxury item with concepts of worth, desire, and trust, Mars questions our personal attachment to brands.   

Similarly, Gold Medallion layers elements from Mobil advertisements with the American flag to surface the complex relationship between cars, oil, and the artist’s home country. Here, a celebrity poster boy is absent, encouraging the viewer to wonder: who will be the brand ambassador to the oil industry?

—Alexxa Godhardt

MARS ATTACKS! is on view at Joanne Artman Gallery, Laguna Beach, California, Sept. 4th–Oct. 31st, 2014.

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