The Supreme Weekly is a regular column examining and breaking down the influences behind the brand’s weekly drops, courtesy of our resident Supreme expert, Ross Wilson.
Today sees the release of Supreme’s collaboration with legendary American photographer Nan Goldin for surely one of the brand’s most opinion-dividing artist projects to date. Based around three of Goldin’s most iconic photographs, “Misty and Jimmy Paulette in a taxi, NYC 1991,” “Kim in Rhinestones, Paris 1991,” and “Nan as a Dominatrix, Cambridge MA 1978,” the photographer’s images are spread across a collection of t-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, jackets and skateboards.
To see images representing the LGBTQ community and drag culture proudly adorning streetwear and skateboards is a breath of fresh air in a scene that can so easily lose track of what made it different in the first place. Part of streetwear’s initial appeal was that it offered an interesting alternative to mainstream fast fashion. Founded and built up by creative individuals, these independent brands spoke to a generation who found nothing inspiring about homogenized chain retailers and labels.
Supreme was born from the downtown streets of New York City, the planet’s most renowned melting pot, home to every form of race, gender, sexuality, religion, class and political belief. Supreme have always embraced a diverse mix of influences — from British punk rock to Jamaican dancehall and American workwear — and there’s a diverse mix of open-minded people associated with the brand, who each bring their influences and beliefs to the table.
One of the things Supreme do best is opening the eyes of their younger demographic to artists and cultures they may not have previously been familiar with. The brand has introduced millennials to the works of Lou Reed, John Baldessari, Miles Davis, Robert Longo, Neil Young, Marilyn Minter, Big L or Siouxsie & the Banshees, via a printed t-shirt design or skateboard graphic. That’s something to be applauded, as it exposes the streetwear audience to aspects of popular culture they may not previously have been familiar with.
In the male dominated streetwear audience there are far too many elements of sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and bigotry, so for the most revered brand of them all to proudly place an image of a transsexual wearing nothing but a rhinestone-bejewelled thong on a t-shirt is a bold step forward in challenging traditional gender ideals.
It will be interesting to see how well received this collection is when released — hopefully Supreme’s customer base will be as open-minded as the brand themselves, and enjoy this interesting collaboration.
With that in mind, here’s a look back at a few of the more controversial artists Supreme have previously worked with over the years.
Long-time Supreme collaborator and director of the 1995 classic movie “KIDS”, Larry Clark’s career has never been short of controversy.
Before making films Clark was a photographer who’s books “Tulsa” (1971) and “Teenage Lust” (1983) were records of teenage drug use, sexual discovery and addiction. Two of the images from these publications were used as t-shirt and skateboard graphics by Supreme in 2005.
Admired and reviled in almost equal measure, American artist Jeff Koons gained recognition in the New York art scene of the 1980s with his kitsch reproductions of balloon animals and pop culture icons. Between 1989-1991, Koons blurred the lines between art and pornography with his body of work entitled “Made In Heaven” that featured explicit photographs and sculptures of him and his former wife Ilona Staller (the Italian porn star also known as La Cicciolina).
Koons worked with Supreme on a series of “Monkey Train” skate decks in 2006 that continue command a heavy price on the art market nowadays.
Released in September 2007 alongside the Takashi Murakami decks was a trio of skateboards designed by Japanese artist Shigeo Nagashima, aka MR.
An artist at Murakami’s KaiKai Kiki art factory, the work of MR. controversially portrayed cute cartoon characters in a highly sexualised context which are so often found in Japanese comics.
Sean Cliver is one of the most important and respected artists in skateboard history. Coming from Steve Rocco’s taboo-smashing publication “Big Brother”, Cliver went on to produce some of the most seminal board graphics of the era for brands such as World Industries, 101 and Blind. The 1990s saw the rise of skater-owned companies who were willing to take risks and weren’t afraid to offend pretty much everyone with their output.
Cliver’s cartoon artwork featured anything from drug use to masturbation, satan worship to pornography, but all done with a tongue-in-cheek humour, and the artist has produced various designs for Supreme over the years, most notably with his skate decks in 2007 and 2010.
Damien Hirst may be the richest living artist but his work has never been short of controversy. Having exploded on the art scene in 1990 with his work “One Thousand Years” — a rotting cow skull breeding maggots and flies — his work has divided opinion and frequently drawn criticism throughout his successful career.
Animal rights activists have regularly inveighed against the artist for his use of dead animals presented in formaldehyde, and he’s often been accused of plagiarism on multiple occasions. He freely admits that out of 1,500 of his infamous “spot” paintings he’s only painted around 25 of them himself, simply because he couldn’t be bothered.
In 2009 Supreme worked with Damien Hirst twice within the same year — firstly on a trio of Spin Painting skateboards and lastly on a series of five Spot Painting decks. The project was accompanied by a video which can be viewed on the “random” section of Supreme’s website, and a one-off Box Logo t-shirt featuring Hirst’s handwritten “Life’s a Bitch, Then You Die” slogan on the back.
New York based artist George Condo was part of the early ‘80s art scene alongside such contemporaries as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
In 2010 Condo’s exposure grew to new levels with Kanye West claiming his five alternative covers artwork for the “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” album had been banned. The controversy West started on Twitter appeared to have little substance behind it but it threw Condo back in the spotlight complimented by a set of three original skateboards exclusively for Supreme later the same year.
Last summer Condo’s New York exhibition “The Trial” showed a collection of highly political paintings inspired by the controversy around the investigation of Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor in the Trump administration.
One of the most shocking artists Supreme have worked with over the years are english brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman. The siblings both studied together at the Royal College of Art where they worked as assistants to the also controversial duo Gilbert & George.
The Chapman Brothers’ work is meant to shock, offend and challenge, with imagery of pornography, mutilation, decapitation, nazism, sex , death and religion — nothing seems off-limits to the Turner Prize winning brothers.
In 2012 the Chapman Brothers designed five limited edition skateboards for Supreme featuring characters such as the charmingly named “Fuck Face”and “Two-faced Cunt”.
Friend of Supreme and part of the downtown IRAK graffiti crew, Dash Snow’s short life wasn’t without controversy. Born Dashiell Snow, he was the great-grandson of French aristocrats Dominique and John de Menil, who amassed what many consider to be America’s finest collection of art.
Although he was set in inherit a fortune he chose to rebel from his privileged upbringings and lived in poverty as a struggling artist in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. His talent didn’t go unnoticed and his collage style work and photography were soon picked up by galleries from New York to London. Snow sadly passed away from a drugs overdose at the Lafayette House Hotel in New York’s East Village just 10 days prior to what would have been his 28th birthday.
In 2016 Supreme honored their friend with a series of skateboard decks that when placed together created a front page of a newspaper depicting Sadam Hussain.
New York photographer Andres Serrano’s body of work has always been embroiled in controversy. His depiction of traditional religious iconography mixed with bodily fluids such as blood, urine, semen and breast milk have caused outrage and denouncement by bother US senators and Christian protestors.
Supreme enlisted the talents of Serrano in September 2017 for a collection of clothing, skateboard decks and Vans sneakers.
New Jersey born Sherman is an American artist known for self-portraits and exploring the stereotypes of female iconography in pop culture and society. Her most controversial work came in the early 1990s with a piece named “Untitled #312”. In the work, three deformed naked prosthetic figures are featured with one appearing to be a dead child with who’s throat has been cut. Sherman went on to also produce her series of “Sex Pictures” — close ups of prosthetic genitals mixed in with vomit, excrement and blood.
For their recent fall/winter season, Supreme chose “Untitled #181” and “Untitled #175” from Cindy Sherman’s “Grotesque Series” for a pair of special-edition skateboard decks.
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