"Earlier this month a so-called public art extravaganza featuring a changing cast of ‘artists, musicians and creative pioneers’ made its way across the country by rail. Station to Station, as it was called, was a project by multi-media artist Doug Aitken and made possible by Levi’s, whose corporate sponsorship has quietly supported an astonishing number of recent public art projects. The list of ‘participants’ in Station to Station was an impressive array of creative personalities — too many to list here — including Patti Smith, Ernesto Neto, James Turrell, Alice Waters, Theaster Gates, Olafur Eliasson, and Nam June Paik, among many others. … While the marketing folks (as quoted in the New York Times) at Levi’s might consider this experiment a success based on the envy of other brands, this singular criterion means nothing in contemporary art or to the people who actually care about it. Herewith are some of the things I hated most about Station to Station, culled from a long list. …
Upon arrival [in Oakland], it was painstakingly obvious that Levi’s scouted a site and then showed up en masse to claim their stake without much, if any, consideration for the people who actually live in West Oakland. One woman leaned out her second-story window at Bea’s Hotel across from the station and heckled people as they arrived. “Hey, white boy with the sweater on your back! You look like a f—king [car horn]!” The hostility was palpable as revelers arrived in droves, many looking like hipster jackasses toting Kombucha and coconut water, after having clogged the narrow streets with their cars.
A long line of largely privileged white people stretched for blocks beyond the entrance, snaking past bewildered neighbors on the sidewalk. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, there were tour buses of folks (collectors? museum trustees? looky-loos?) being shuttled in on enormous buses for Levi’s uniquely appalling brand of ‘slum tourism.’ Watching people arrive, I was reminded of how the art fairs rumble into the most disadvantaged areas of Miami every December to roll out red carpets for a few days before leaving the roads more worn than before and huge piles of post-commerce garbage in their wake. …
But what is Levi’s investment in the arts about exactly? Why the sudden interest in public art and entertainment? The answers became clearer as the night wore on…
Just beyond the entrance, a sign was posted high in the air, deliberately situated to avoid catching anyone’s attention. It read: ‘CROWD NOTICE RELEASE. PLEASE BE AWARE THAT, BY ENTERING THIS AREA, YOU CONSENT TO YOUR VOICE AND LIKENESS BEING USED WITHOUT COMPENSATION IN FILMS AND TAPES FOR EXPLOITATION IN ANY AND ALL MEDIA, WHETHER NOW KNOWN OR HEREAFTER DEVISED, AND YOU RELEASE STATION TO STATION LLC, AND ITS SUCCESSORS, ASSIGNS, AND LICENSEES FROM ANY LIABILITY ON ACCOUNT OF SUCH USAGE. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE SUBJECT TO THE FOREGOING, DO NOT ENTER THIS AREA.’ This sign solidified my dawning realization of Levi’s motivations with the project, which had nothing to do with aligning with the avant-garde or supporting art. It was a way to create marketing materials in perpetuity. The event, from station to station, as it were, was designed to capture as much documentation of the creative class at play as possible and to use it in ‘lifestyle’ campaigns to promote Levi’s.”