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‘Greed’ is an art in hard times

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Steve Chiotakis: Well, whe financial fallout has rippled across Europe. Layoffs are on the rise, retails sales are on the decline. What better time — or at least, an odd time — to debut a commercial about a perfume called “Greed.” From Rome, Megan Williams has the story.

Megan Williams: Call it “Eau de Economic Crisis.” Or better yet: “Eau de Cause of Crisis.” Greed, a new perfume by Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli.

But here’s where things get weird: The perfume doesn’t actually exist. And the commercial for it, which debuted at the swanky Gagosian art gallery in Rome, is just as fake.

In the ad, director Roman Polanski has Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams tussle on the floor of a luxurious hotel room. Each tries to wrest a clunky perfume bottle out of each other’s arms. The smell of Greed is apparently irresistible.

But the so-called ad won’t be appearing on TV anytime soon. It’s actually an art installation. Francesco Vezzoli, who created it, has made a name for himself by mixing celebrity culture with art. He’s done a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist and staged the opening of play that never took place. Everyone from Gore Vidal to Courtney Love has appeared.

For the Greed ad, he purposely chose a director and actors who refuse to do product promotion.

Francesco Vezzoli: I hold up a mirror and I say, “This is the world we live in.” And I’m not a moralist, because if I were a moralist, I’d have to be a clean person myself. Instead I’m dirty, like all artists. So I can’t claim any moral stance.

With Greed, Vezzoli wanted to replicate the process of making a celebrity commercial, but without the final sell.

Vezzoli: On the front page of the Herald-Tribune, it says the world is sinking, and here there is the most famous director in the world filming a huge-budget commercial for a product that doesn’t exist. I think that’s making trouble, and art is making trouble.

True. But as economies are sinking, should art be wasting money?

Vezzoli: Oh no, we are not wasting money. We are entertaining ourselves.

In Rome, I’m Megan Williams for Marketplace.

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