AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

TIN CANS, COKE SPOONS, AND BRILLO BOXES

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Tiffany’s is selling a tin can for $1000 and people are PISSED.

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Well, not tin, exactly. Sterling silver, vermeil, and a thin stripe of Tiffany-blue lacquer. There’s also, of course, an engraved Tiffany logo and a .925 mark – just so you don’t get confused and think it’s actually made of tin.

It’s interesting. Why has this object, of all the objects in the collection, become the object of such widespread loathing? Why not the $1500 coffee can? Why not the $950 paper plate? Or the $9000 ball of yarn? Or any of the numerous other items you can explore in the Everyday Objects collection?

Well, none of these quite capture what’s distinctively horrifying about the not-tin tin can. First, it looks exactly the same as its everyday counterpart, where the paper plate and straws are clearly not made of paper or plastic.

Second, there’s something about choosing the tin can itself. Sterling silver paper plates and straws give a kind of fun high-low vibe, one that people already more or less accept. Think of the ceramic Greek restaurant coffee cups, or ceramic Solo cups. Some of these things also have a purpose (it’s a coffee mug, but a little cheeky), and they aren’t exorbitantly expensive.

But specifics of the tin can aside, why so much hate?

Well, Tiffany’s is treading a very fine line between art object and consumer object. Despite the description which states, “The Everyday Objects collection transforms utilitarian items into handcrafted works of art,” it’s tough to imagine them as works of art in the way that other things have been.

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Andy Warhol, Brillo Boxes (1964)

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Tobias Wong and Ju$t Another Rich Kid, Coke Spoon 02 (2005)

These are utilitarian objects transformed into works of art. What about Tiffany & Co?

There’s something very unsavory about some of the descriptions. The paper plate description reads: “Reimagined in sterling silver, this paper plate is infused with modern wit.” Ugh, barf. The objects “possess a whimsical wink that is quintessentially Tiffany.” Come ON now. Please, tell me how a $36,000 engagement ring possesses a whimsical wink. I’ll grant that those “Please return to Tiffany” necklaces are a little clever on one interpretation, but on the other interpretation are literally begging for return business.

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If I am found dying in a ditch, Tiffany’s is all the medical care I’ll need.

Look, context matters. If it were, say, Tiffany’s contribution to a MoMA show about fashion and consumption, things would be different. And anyway Tiffany’s in particular is a little too lighthearted of a company to be well-positioned for this kind of thing to be a sendup or call for some sort of interesting commentary on everyday objects and consumer culture. They’re no Alexander McQueen or Comme de Garçons, after all. Tiffany’s is hearts and innocence and silver and bright robin’s-egg blue boxes with a cream satin ribbon.

In short, one feels uneasy about a luxury company like Tiffany’s, especially against the backdrop of a constantly increasing income gap. Taking something like a humble tin can, branding it, and making it out of luxury materials seems almost a slap in the face to those who actually put their pencils in empty soup cans.

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But do you put your TIFFANY pencils in a TIFFANY can?

If done in a way that could actually plausibly be seen as some sort of thoughtful jest or jab, this tin can could actually be *something*. But as it is, it’s just a fucking $1000 tin can.

Image credits: Akron Art Museum, SFMoMA.

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