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The Art and Splendor of Shopping

FRANKFURT — Is it the motor of our consumption-oriented society, a patriotic duty, an innocuous pastime, or, as some fashionistas might argue, an art form?<br><br>Shopping is a many splendored thing, as the exhibit of the same name at...

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FRANKFURT — Is it the motor of our consumption-oriented society, a patriotic duty, an innocuous pastime, or, as some fashionistas might argue, an art form?

This story first appeared in the October 25, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Shopping is a many splendored thing, as the exhibit of the same name at Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle amplifies. It’s a subject that has fascinated, aggravated, inspired and compelled artists for more than 100 years.

On view here through Dec. 1 and then at the Tate Liverpool in England from Dec. 20 to Mar. 23, the exhibit features about 200 examples of shopping-related art works. It moves from early shop window photographs by Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbot to surrealist mannequin fantasies, Bauhaus displays and Pop and Fluxus reconstructions, including the “American Supermarket.”

For a week in 1964, the New York Bianchini gallery became a grocery store of non-edibles from the likes of Andy Warhol, Robert Watts and Roy Lichtenstein.

Also on view at the Schirn are Claes Oldenburg’s “Store,” Jeff Koon’s “New Series” Hoover vacuums, Damien Hirst’s “Pharmacy” installation and Sylvie Fleury’s shoe lover’s fantasy “Pleasures,” as well as Tom Sach’s spoofs on designer packaging and Andreas Gursky’s famous photographs of Prada and bargain shops.

Some works were commissioned for the exhibit, while others were placed around the city to promote the show.

The largest, located on Frankfurt’s busiest shopping street, is by Barbara Kruger, famous for her 1987 dictum, “I Shop Therefore I Am.” Her new work dominates the four-story facade of the Kaufhof Galeria department store, with two huge eyes watching over the swarming pedestrian traffic. The caption in German reads: “You love it, you dream it, you need it, you buy it, you forget it.”

“The fact that the store collaborated in such a way is great. Can you imagine that happening in the States?” Kruger mused during opening festivities here last month. As for shopping, the artist finds the activity “very complicated and very easy.”

“It’s not necessarily about buying, but about looking, cruising and framing the idea of perfection,” she said. “It’s about looking at something and saying, psychologically, ‘That’s me.’”

In 1985, Andy Warhol stated, “Lock up a department store today, open the door after a hundred years and you will have a Museum of Modern Art.” Artist Haim Steinbach turned that concept around, transforming the Schirn museum into a department store.

Steinbach collaborated with German fashion house Strenesse to install some 90 feet of clothed and partially clothed mannequins in the windows of the museum. For unsuspecting pedestrians, the effect was one of curious displacement.

The theme continues inside. Visitors to the museum must first pass through a turnstile and grocery-stocked aisles resembling those of supermarket chain Tengelmann. But it’s art, not shopping. The visually stunning arrangements of laundry soaps and fruit juice by artist Guillaume Bijl are not for sale.

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