XXX: The Power of Sex In Contemporary Design 

XXX: The Power of Sex In Contemporary Design documents and analyzes provocative images, predominantly in print advertisements and album covers or flyers. The glossy pages contain a miasma of coy consumerism and manipulation, as well as appealing, stylized design work. The result is a mixed feeling of admiration and contempt, a conflicted intrigue that makes XXX preoccupying.

Torn from their original context and presented as a visual art collection, the images in XXX force the reader to wrestle with differentiations between art and advertising. The smart, crisply written text that introduces each chapter touches on implications the images have towards feminism, alternative lifestyles like fetishism and homosexuality, and safe sex.

Visually, the specimens are fascinating, both because of their workmanship and their reflective, forthright allure. Many are funny, like the elderly couple in a Diesel ad, wherein the old woman is grabbing the crotch of a denim-clad grand pappy who looks ready to either sleep or die. Many of them illustrate the increasing diversity acknowledged by advertising campaigns, such as the Lifestyles Condom ads and the more quizzical Bridgestone car tire ads, which feature gay sex and couples. Still others appear almost nonsensical, such as handbag zippers manipulated to look like vaginal openings.

XXX's comments on each example vary from appreciative to haughty, applauding campaigns that affirm sexual or gender freedoms and snubbing those that perpetuate cheap or degrading stereotypes.

The analysis on these pages is generally quite straight-faced, sometimes dry, and the inseparability of the promotional intentions of the images from their content raises the question of how seriously one should consider them. Certainly, they are relevant, and mimicking what their targets' perceived desires are means that we the demographic are vital to their proliferation. At the same time, there's a strong desire to resist being duped, and call bullshit on their manipulations.

XXX gracefully allows these conflicts to occur, taking a presentational role over an expository thesis. Should you try not to like it simply because it's made to make you like it? What are the exact points of differentiation between commercial and fine arts? Check out XXX, then discuss. MARJORIE SKINNER

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