Raymond Hains. N/T. 1998. Collection MACBA, Barcelona

Praise be to billboards.

There is a lot to be said about an individual’s perspective on things like religion and the afterlife. Some will quote religious text, citing some specific reference that explains it all. Others might have their own ideas of what might, or might not, happen, some set in their notions and others completely unsure. One thing that we all share about this topic is that we all must confront it sooner or later. Death comes for us all. The Reaper has no preferences or qualms and cannot be bargained or pleaded with. And while many people have ideas about what happens after, if anything, we are also united in the fact that we simply do not know. To this end, religion comforts us. We feel safe knowing that if we have done right by our gods then they will do right by us. We expect those who have done terrible things to be punished and those that have done good to be rewarded. This provides us with a moral structure to our lives: do good and good will happen to you, do evil and evil will befall you.

Religious objects are everywhere in our daily lives. We pass churches with regularity and include phrases of faith in the general vernacular. These things are fully integrated with our society; we have come to expect them to be there.

More than just religious icons, we come to expect things like advertisements and street signs. In a way, ads have their own type of religious following. Ads promise beauty and everlasting youth, and they are increasingly more present and intrusive. Ads tailored to your preferences pop up on the internet, and billboards and large-scale ads on the sides of buildings shout brand names and ways of life. The latest technologies, the newest fashion trend, the best makeup and hairstyles. They are omnipresent in a way that we don’t actually notice until they aren’t there. They have so fully unified with our lives that they have simply become a part of us.

Another way in which these two aspects of our lives are similar is the way in which they choose to be visually represented. The more simple something is the more likely we are to remember, and therefore go back to it. Religions have very simple symbols, much like many brands. Christianity has the cross or the fish, Islam has the crescent moon and star, Judaism – the Star of David, Buddhism – the lotus and the Dharma Wheel. To a certain extent, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism all share the Hamsa hand as a symbol of protection. Ads are like this as well, grabbing our attention with simple slogans and symbols that tick in our memory.

At first glance, the objects that make up this exhibition don’t quite seem to fit. They are all beautiful on their own, but when put together they make up a whole that you wouldn’t quite think possible. This exhibit makes you think and draw new parallels between art, religion, and ad campaigns that you might not have considered before. Curator Carlos Martín in the exhibition: “Iconoclastic gestures, heterodox images”  does a wonderful job of pulling together pieces of art in such a way as to create something entirely new and captivating. He uses iconic pieces and images to put forth an interesting connection not just between religion and advertising, but also our need or explicit want for both.

So many of the pieces of art in this exhibit made me think about these connections in a way that I never had before. It is amazing to think about how common and pervasive the symbolism of religion and advertising is in our lives. It’s something we see and choose to accept because not to accept it would mean to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount.

These two things, religion and advertising, may not seem connected at all, but they are. We pay homage to our gods and our favorite brands. Different religious sects shout “believe and your life will be fulfilled!” at the same time that companies shout “buy this and your life will be better!” Both things reach out in similar ways to appeal to us and exert influence, and , when they are gone, leave a similar well of emptiness where we know that something should be.

This is something that I love about contemporary art. It makes you think about things in a way that you might not have before. It’s all about expanding the horizons of possibility and consciousness. These objects don’t go together, and yet they do. Nothing fits, and everything does. The meaning is obscured and obvious. It is wonderful in a way that classical art (though in every way beautiful) could never be, because it provokes deeper thought and contemplation.

Comisart. New perspectives on the Collection “la Caixa” iconoclastic gestures, heterodox images. CaixaForum Barcelona until June 5