The browsing, selection and purchase of commodities is one of the defining activities of modern urban life. Shopping has overtaken the mere satisfaction of physical necessities, becoming a ritual in which identities are shaped and transformed.
Artists have long been fascinated by the methods used in seducing customers, and by the locales of shopping - from corner shops and department stores to contemporary suburban mega-malls. Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture examines the relationship between the display, distribution and consumption of commodities and consumption of commodities and modern and contemporary art, and includes work that blur the distinction between the shop environment and the gallery environment. The exhibition begins with Your Supermarket 2002 by Guillaume Bijl, a ‘real’ supermarket in the gallery, with shelves of fresh food, drinks and household products, as well as checkout tills. Bijl presents us with a familiar place but because nothing is for sale our desire to buy is frustrated.
Photographers Eugène Atget, Berenice Abbott and Walker Evans chronicled the disappearing world of small shops and specialist stores in Paris, New York and beyond. Their work can be seen alongside Stewart Bale’s photographs of shops such as Woolworths, Lewis’s and Marks & Spencer in Liverpool.
Early examples of art’s crossover into the commercial sphere include Frederick Kiesler’s studies of shop windows and László Moholy-Nagys application of Bauhaus principles to the presentation of objects. The Surrealists created highly theatrical window displays, outraging the public by confusing material and erotic desires.
Two major Pop art installations feature in Shopping: Claes Oldenburg’s The Store 1961,and The American Supermarket- constructed for the first time since the original was shown in New York in 1964. A collaboration between the great names of Pop art, including Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, The American Supermarket is an evocation of an ordinary supermarket but one where real foods such as Warhol’s signed stacks of Campbell’s soup cans are mixed together with works such as Robert Watts’ chrome fruits and multicoloured wax eggs.
Shopping also presents a classic example of Christo’s covered store fronts from the 1960s, an ensemble of Jeft Koons’ monumental vacuum-cleaner vitrines from the 1980s, and Barbara Kruger’s iconic work Untitled (I shop therefore I am) l987.
Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy 1992 shown for the first time at Tate Liverpool - explores the link between the presentation techniques used by pharmaceutical companies and the methods of display found in shops and museums. Andreas Gursky’s new work 99 Cent II 2001 celebrates and critiques the seductive powers of supermarket packaging and presentation.