The American Supermarket Campbell's Soup Can Christo Store Front

Consumer article in the Art World as print version (PDF with illus. and fn. 2.500 KB)


The Consumer Article in the Art World: On the Para-Economy of American Pop Art

in: Shopping. A Century of Art and Consumer Culture, ed. by Max Hollein and Christoph Grunenberg, exhibition catalogue Tate Liverpool, Ostfildern-Ruit 2002, p. 148-53.

Chapter III

Together with other artists in 1964, Oldenburg participated in a New York gallery project, The American Supermarket. Like his Store it was based on the idea of transferring the irritating closeness between art and goods to a presentation and sales context, but aimed at the cool, hygienic ‚look‘ of a modern outlet. Here, too, the transfer affected the room itself, as it oscillated between art and non-art. It was entered through a turnstile built by Richard Artschwager, and the ‚wares‘ of different ‚producers‘ were available from freezers and shelves. On offer, among other things, were Tom Wesselmann’s oversized turkey-cock relief made from plastic, a picture by Roy Lichtenstein of the same subject matter, and Robert Watts‘ chrome steel eggs, wax tomatoes and plaster pumpernickels. Warhol used the situation for if not his best, in the light of the borderline between art and non-art, produced and made problematical by Pop Art, certainly his most pertinent work. Under a silk-screen diptych of two Campbell’s cans was a stack built with original cans of soup, signed and declared to be art or ‚Warhols‘, costing many times the normal price. Anyone who decided to buy such a can had – exaggerating slightly – to be schooled in concept art and already to have passed the acid test of endorsing Duchamp’s ready-mades. Warhol split the artificial production up into the separate production of a non-artistic object and its subsequent transformation, without alteration, into a work of art. While the signing de-functionalised the can of soup and while, conversely, enjoyment of the soup would have meant ‚destruction of art‘, it was clear that the production of goods and the production of art were counterbalanced. Thus Warhol’s transformation affected the thing itself to a lesser extent and the thinking about it to a much greater one – through notions of art, institutions, authorship etc. It was precisely the indistinguishableness of art and non-art that allowed the differences between artworks and goods to be set against each other in such an intransigent manner.
If The American Supermarket blurred the boundary between the distribution of art and goods in an amusing and playful manner, Christo’s Store Fronts, shown in the same year and for the first time in New York, gave rise to another, ‚darker‘ form of functional subversion: an abrupt stop to the movement of goods. The first wooden Store Fronts were created from pieces that Christo had found on demolition sites in the Lower East Side, where the old hardware shops had given way to more rational and more profitable sales structures. The new compilations of debris for Store Fronts in gallery rooms led to a complex spatial-functional de- and re-contextualisation. The paradox of the presentation of an architectonic exterior in an inside room was made even more pointed by the fact that the interior of the exterior in question was hung across it – whereby the situation became still more complicated since it was merely a question of façades and the interior did not actually exist. Thus, what was hanging was not something but nothing, and it became less a question of screening than of visualising, in order to produce the seam between what was present and what was absent. The hanging revealed first of all the necessity for the displays of long-vanished shop windows to remain invisible. At least Christo’s early work – which decisively oversteps the context of Pop Art, possibly does not even belong to it – has to cross the ‚tragic‘ trend reminiscent of Surrealism, the hiding and burying of things and the desire to see death and Eros.

Chapter I
Chapter II
Punkt Konsumgut in der Kunstwelt Chapter III
Pfeil Konsumgut in der Kunstwelt Chapter IV
Consumer article in the Art World as print version (PDF with illus. and fn. 2.500 KB)