Abstract: Philip Morris, Art Philanthropy, and "Health Controversy," 1965-1980

Daniel Robinson


This paper examines Philip Morris's support of visual artists from the mid-1960s until the mid-1980s. Philip Morris was an early sponsor of performing groups and visual artists in the United States. It was notable for its pioneering support of (then controversial) Pop, Op, and Conceptual art styles, funding exhibitions with works by Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, among many others. The paper examines the company's art philanthropy within the context of public relations efforts to manage smoking-related controversies. Philip Morris executives believed that funding art shows and museum exhibitions forged ties with "opinion leaders," those politicians, journalists, business leaders, civil servants, and educators typically drawn to the arts. Influencing these groups, it was thought, would improve the social climate for smoking and the regulatory context for cigarette merchandising. Philip Morris officials regarded art philanthropy, in part, as a means for fostering social legitimacy, both for the corporation and for the tobacco industry itself, as they confronted mounting forms of public opposition.