Diamond in the Rough

07.26.11

Thirty Years of Tiffany Ads

Artist Ross Bleckner has collected nearly three decades’ worth of The New York Times’ page A3, each mixing a Tiffany ad and news story. The resulting book reveals surprising relationships between the images of luxury and poverty.

When you open the front section of The New York Times, you’ll see articles continued from the front page, war photographs, the occasional ad. The last thing you’d expect to find is that the pages themselves are a work of art.

The artist Ross Bleckner has published a new book, A3: Our Lives in The New York Times, that is, at first glance, inherently simple: a collection of the Times’ A3 pages from the early 1980s to the present. Every day for almost 30 years, Tiffany & Co. has published an ad in the upper right-hand corner of the page selling a single luxury item—a diamond ring, a watch, a necklace—next to a simple slogan. The ad always runs adjacent to a news article and a photograph, from stories about typhoons in Indonesia to burials in Kosovo.

Often the contrast between the ad and the editorial is jarring. The Tiffany ad that ran on March 26, 1993, shows a 2½ inch sterling-silver elephant figurine, laid out next to a picture of a girl starving in Sudan. “In a Romantic Frame of Mind” read the Tiffany’s ad selling a heart-shaped picture frame before Valentine’s Day in 1994, alongside a photo of machine gun-toting guerrilla soldiers in Mozambique. A string of $135,000 black pearls with pave diamonds, advertised as the “Splendors of the South Seas,” ran next to a photo of a tornado victim in Bangladesh in May 1996.

The book is a collection of these pages, each with their own contrasts and surprises. Together the clippings tell a story of social evolution: How news has advanced; how politics has intersected with human life; how the world has changed. As Bleckner puts it, the book is a study in “luxury, tragedy, and beauty.” With a Tiffany’s ad on one side and an image of world famine or natural disaster on the other, the pages—in context with each other—send a strong message about stark divide between the haves and the have-nots.

“It’s good to realize that you live in this world, that all these things swirl around you,” Bleckner says. “It’s like sitting in a doctor’s office and seeing people who are going through chemotherapy looking at Vogue. There is wistfulness, hopefulness, anxiety.”

Since the early ’80s, Bleckner has diligently clipped out A3 Times pages, mounting his favorites onto boards and storing them. He says he got the idea for the book simply by noticing patterns in the images he was looking on a daily basis. He calls it a practice in “mindful observation.” “It’s not even a judgment on their product,” he says. “It’s an observation that these things are going on simultaneously in the world every day.”

Though he is most famous for his large, nonrepresentational paintings addressing change and loss, Bleckner says he maintains several side projects that allow him to categorize natural images he finds in the world around him.

While he can’t remember how or when he first began the project, he says the current moment, full of economic anxieties, felt like the right one to publish the pages together. “It’s the feeling of putting your nose against the Tiffany’s window,” he says. “Life turns on a dime.” And even after this book is on shelves July 31, the project will continue, as each daily paper brings new material.

In that sense, the book is simultaneously great product placement for Tiffany’s and a huge PR nightmare. On one hand, A3 illustrates the timelessness of the brand over nearly three decades. On the other, the clippings highlight the tone-deafness of the luxury industry to the world around it. Though Bleckner says friends have suggested he have a book party at Tiffany’s next month, he laughs: “I haven’t gotten any calls yet.”

Prints of the images from A3 are currently on sale at ArtSpace.