23 Apr–18 Sep, 2016

When does art stop being art – and become nothing more than advertising? How far can and should companies go to borrow a kind of authenticity they can never create themselves?

Message in a Bottle is an attempt to recapitulate how the Swedish brand Absolut Vodka made use of themed advertisements and one-off artist commissions. What influenced the company to take a chance on famous and less famous names, and how did they manage the balance between art and advertising?

First, though, let us explain why a museum of spirits is showing art at all: In 2008, we became the owners of a large collection of art – the Absolut Art Collection. When the Swedish state sold Vin & Sprit AB, which included the Absolut Vodka brand, to France’s Pernod Ricard, it was determined that the art collection was of cultural and historical significance to Sweden and would not be included in the sale. Instead, its new home would be the Museum of Spirits.

The Absolut Art Collection consists of a total of 850 works created by 550 artists between 1986 and 2004. This year, it is 30 years since Andy Warhol signed his name to the first piece.

In paintings, posters, photos, sculptures, furniture and objets d’art, the artists interpreted a single motif, the vodka bottle.

Most of the works were reproduced in advertisements for Absolut Vodka in periodicals around the world. Many people have seen the ads. Few have seen the collection. Opinion on it is divided.