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Keep your eye on the apple at new exhibition

26 Sept 2020 2020 NapierApple no shadow MMimage 960 x 809

Last night MTG Hawke’s Bay opened a new exhibition; Billy Apple® A Brand Looking for a Product 1962—2020 and this morning, the Museum hosts a public talk with the artist and author of his, soon to be published monograph, Christina Barton.

Billy Apple is one of New Zealand’s most successful creative exports, he has exhibited in many major cities around the world; New York, London, Rotterdam, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia just to mention a few. Apple has also exhibited in just about every public gallery in this country.

On entering the exhibition there is a sense of familiarity, which comes from our experience with the world of commercial advertising. Apple uses the language of advertising to produce artworks, using formats such as billboards and posters. More recently, he has produced products such as cider, coffee and clothing. These Apple products double as artworks and this exhibition is about one such product.

The story of this particular product begins in 1999 when Apple came Hawke’s Bay to find an apple he could call the ‘Billy Apple’. He planned to buy the marketing license from Prevar, intending to distribute the apple internationally. While the project didn’t result in Apple gaining the rights to an apple variety, it was an intriguing concept.

He had, in 1964, worked with Andy Warhol amongst others, to replicate a supermarket in a gallery. Thirty-five years later, Apple was circling back on that idea by putting an artwork, in the form of fresh fruit, into supermarkets - a reversal of the original concept, if you like.

The exhibition covers this story within a bigger story – a story, which started in 1962 when Apple changed his name and created a new identity for himself under the name Billy Apple.

From this point on, Apple integrated his life with his art practice, dissolving distinctions between himself as an artist and his artwork. In 2007, Apple became Billy Apple ®, a licensed trademark and registered brand, a move that reinforced Apple’s commitment to the concept of the artist as an artwork.

Situated in the world of marketing and commerce, the exhibition presents an astute critical reflection on consumer culture. We can see this in his mimicking of advertising tropes, his obsession with perfection and the brand’s apparent materialist ambitions.

For Apple, art works in the exhibition reflect a search for the right product; he is looking for product that connects to a bigger story, touching on ideas beyond consumer culture.  

In this exhibition for example, is the concept that in biting into a live branded apple - we could be not only consuming a product of the brand, but also the body of the artist. There’s Billy Apple Cider which is designed using the proportions of the golden section, otherwise known as the divine section, or the solid gold apple that saw Apple drawn into a world of greed and deception.

Apple is a heavy hitter in the art world, but less well known outside the sector. Those who know of him might be quick to brush off his work as obscure or oblique. Perhaps it is the fact that Apple has earned his reputation by innovating and pushing boundaries. Apple is a game changer but innovation in any sector is a challenge for the unwitting observer. It is though, the innovation in his practice, which has earned Apple a place in history.

For Billy Apple ®, there is also a bigger goal, which is about getting people into MTG to see the artwork. When you get here, you will experience a multi-layered story, one that is about an apple project that started here in Hawke’s Bay and that expresses a highly intelligent philosophical and perhaps, existential view.

Billy Apple® A Brand Looking for a Product
25 September 2020 – 21 March 2021

Image: Red Apple, 2015
Painted and signed ceramic apple
Photograph: Mary Morrison


  • Billy Apple and Christina Barton, author of the forthcoming monograph on the artist, will be in conversation in the gallery, MTG Hawke’s Bay, today, Saturday 26 September, 11am. Free entry

27 September 2020

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