“The Lifestyle Press” is pejorative shorthand for a genre of magazines that market the ideal of the good life as a perpetual buy-in. Architectural Digest, Martha Stewart Living, Travel & Leisure, Bon Appétit, Real Simple, and every fashion magazine: regardless of its target demographic or the flavor of its brand, a lifestyle publication internalizes an inherent conflict. Its implicit narrative is a seamless transition between the acquisition of stuff and the weightless ideal of happiness. And more often than not, it seeks to symbolically unify the two – to sublimate the buy – in the guise of art, as a photography of perfection. There is no substantial difference or friction between hypothetically idealized visual content and its ultimate function of promotion.
Rather than consider a magazine which tries to legitimize itself with the exhibition of art, The Lifestyle Press is a transparent exhibition of art that operates within the display and transaction mechanisms of such magazines. Each participating photographer has been given sufficient space to assemble an editorial position or story, consisting of several photographs: similar to a magazine feature, it narrativizes some aspect of idealized display.
The exhibition’s function, however, extends beyond the pictures alone or their display. It hinges upon the existence of the show within both the gallery and publishing systems, and includes its marketing and its sale in a self-fulfilling tautology. In place of an exhibition catalog, a standard junk-mail circular has been published, of the type regularly inserted into Sunday papers and mailboxes. It was printed on the same pulp-presses, by the same large-scale newsprint agencies that regularly create such things. The circular will be for sale in the gallery at a low price. It contains reproductions of the photographers’ work, as well as specially-created coupons that offer the visitor/customer a $5 rebate on the price of an artwork. This gallery promo deal carries within it the potential to simultaneously hype and cannibalize the very thing it promotes: if, conceivably, a customer were to buy enough of the $10 circulars, she could force the gallery into selling a piece for free, or to even pay the customer with cash back for the “purchase” – provided she had already paid far in excess of the purchase price for the circulars.
The exhibition/magazine becomes a promotional shopping engine endlessly fueled by the same photographs it sells.
The Lifestyle Press is an indirect action: show us the goods.
- Gil Blank