Designing Nations

Artists deserve more recognition from their countries for defining the visual identity and brand values of their nations.


No country can go un-branded,” says Vulture Magazine, playfully rating each nation solely on its pavilion at the Venice Biennale. But there’s a serious point here. Art unquestionably contributes to an overall national brand. Take the contribution of young British artists to the 1990s “Cool Britannia” revival in tourism. A recent book charts how the iconic portrait of activist Che Guevara became a symbol of Cuba, the artist’s homeland, not Guevara’s native Argentina. Yet some nations ignore, reject and even persecute their artists. Frida Kahlo was ostracized for years before becoming a mainstreamsymbol of Mexico. Think how improved China’s image would be if they leveraged the prestige of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei instead of attempting to silence him. Plenty of tourist offices tout their nation’s museums — the new Whitney, the Guggenheim Bilbao, the Tate Modern — but rarely the art inside them. Governments and commerce should honor and support their national artists. Does your company recognize the inextricable intertwining of art and country brand?

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