LONDON (Reuters Life!) - High-profile contemporary artists like Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami have long embraced Andy Warhol's infamous provocation that "good business is the best art."
A major new exhibition at Tate Modern in London called "Pop Life: Art in a Material World" seeks to show that such a commercial approach to art is not necessarily as cynical as the critical world, and wider public, often say it is.
The featured artists, the show argues, are merely taking control of their images and image, rejecting the old system of patronage and galleries and cutting out the middle man in pursuit of maximum profit, and with it celebrity.
"A question that often comes up about this show is whether it is just about money," said co-curator Catherine Wood.
"The art market, and the money side of that, is really boring. But money comes into this show in the form of artists taking control of it," she told Reuters.
The exhibition opens with several rooms dedicated to Warhol, who ushered in the world of materialist art with his screens, aggressive self-promotion and open courting of the stars.
It also features Japan's prolific Murakami, who perhaps more than anyone has built his work into a lucrative brand with the help of his own factory and toy figurines.
The show, which runs from October 1 to January 17, 2010, recreates Keith Haring's Pop Shop which he opened in 1986 in New York to merchandise his branded artistic signature as limited edition items like T-shirts, toys and magnets.
And on display are works from Hirst's "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever" auction at Sotheby's last year which raised 111 million pounds ($177 million) and deliberately bypassed the gallery system which would have reduced his profits considerably.
While acknowledging that many of the artists on display were out to make as much money as possible, Wood argued that they had a wider, and higher agenda.
"The point people miss in getting hooked on the money issue is that they have a democratic impulse and actively collect works by young and up-and-coming artists," she said.
"The position of the artist has radically shifted from the solo genius working alone in a studio to the artist engaging in society."
Several of the 17 rooms making up the exhibition come with warnings, because they contain sexually explicit images.
Andrea Fraser's "Untitled," for example, is an hour-long video of the artist having sex with an unnamed collector in a hotel room shot from a still camera. Fraser charged $20,000 for her services.
"Here is the artist as service provider, and by pushing the point to its logical conclusion it is almost beyond comment," said Wood.
A room dedicated to Koons contains large images and a life-size model of the artist in explicit sexual poses with his ex-wife La Cicciolina, a Hungarian-born porn star.
And Richard Prince's "Spiritual America" from 1983, in which he re-photographed an image of a young and naked Brooke Shields, revisits the controversy that surrounded the picture.
Wood said she and her co-curators had considered restricting access to the show to over-18s, but opted instead for having staff on hand to warn visitors about explicit content.
Editing by Paul Casciato