JTF (just the facts): Published in 2015 by Editorial RM (here)/Phree (here). Softcover, 64 pages, with 33 black and white photographs. Includes various captions. In an edition of 1000. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: We probably should have realized that Carlos Spottorno had additional ideas for satirizing the infrastructure of finance when we saw his ad for the imaginary WTF Bank on the back of his innovative Economist-lookalike photobook The Pigs (reviewed here) a few years ago. In this full page ad, a shiny red Ferrari beckons from an empty garage, with the tagline You don’t need money, All you need is credit letting us know that this bank really understands how things are done in the upwardly mobile 21st century. Spottorno’s newest book Wealth Management fleshes out the WTF Bank concept further, creating a mock sales brochure for high end wealth services, complete with fancy gold embossing. Once again, he has adopted the look and feel of typical financial marketing, only to turn it into a vehicle for biting satire.
Part of the reason Spottorno’s recent caricature works so well is that it is so convincingly faithful to the original – this is an artist who understands the inner workings of advertising. The requisite pictures are all included: the polo match, the skiing at St. Moritz, the wood paneled club room, the stone castle turret, and the custom shoe form for the shiny leather monk strap oxfords. These stock aspirational subjects match the visual language of premier wealth services perfectly, from the busy finance workers in sleek glass buildings to the high touch salesmanship of the familiar looking bankers. He’s even borrowed the slick language of these brochures from actual HSBC, UBS, and Lloyd’s Bank websites and materials, with their promises of long term specialization, philanthropy expertise, and efficient tax planning and their veiled allusions to skirting intrusive regulations and legal structures. The Bentley, the Swiss guards, the private jet, the fluffy mink coat – he’s leveraged all the important signifiers for maximum symbolic impact.
But unlike Martin Parr’s Luxury, which so neatly skewered the ridiculousness to be found at art fairs, horse races, fashion weeks, and car shows catering to the rich, Spottorno’s Wealth Management takes a much darker and more sinister view of the 1% of the 1%. Pixelated faces turn the wealthy into anonymous shadows, ostensibly operating outside (or perhaps above) the normal rules and power structures. Suited men and glamorous sunglassed women take on noir-ish menace, full of whispers and sneaking around; seemingly inadvertent inclusions of dumpsters of shredded documents, a garbage truck pulling away from a suited banker, and a police search of a shiny limousine quietly reference a more seamy underbelly hiding beneath the perfectly polished exterior. Vaults behind bars, numbered safe deposit boxes, and armed guards remind us that privacy and security are always taken seriously, as if to say don’t worry, the ever decorous bankers are here to protect us. To end this farce with the powerful upthrust arm of Freddie Mercury (as a bronze statue) seems perfectly wonderful. It’s simultaneously declaring the triumphant dominance of the wealthy, while undercutting that idea with mischievous glee.
Conceptually, this is straightforward inversion project; what makes it successful is Spottorno’s nuanced execution. He’s found just the right balance between authenticity and parody, allowing us to see the sharpness of his skepticism and sarcasm, but via the subtleties of sly exaggeration of the well recognized norm. His scorn for the moneyed class and its army of sycophants is undeniably real, but he’s delivered it with such a velvet touch, his withering slur is well camouflaged.
Collector’s POV: Carlos Spottorno’s gallery representation isn’t clear, so interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist (via the site linked in the sidebar) or with the two publishers.