Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

You Want It, You Buy It, You Forget It ; A New Exhibit Explores the Evolution of Our Shopping Habits and Uses Art to Delve into What Drives Us to Shop, Consume, and Shop More

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

You Want It, You Buy It, You Forget It ; A New Exhibit Explores the Evolution of Our Shopping Habits and Uses Art to Delve into What Drives Us to Shop, Consume, and Shop More

Article excerpt

Shopping on Sunday in Germany is strictly forbidden. For the past few months, however, people in Frankfurt could window-shop in a museum on Sunday where an art exhibit devoted itself to the consumer world's favorite pastime.

"Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture" at the Schirn Kunsthalle museum (which opens Dec. 20 at the Tate Modern in Liverpool, England) took artists such as Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Christo, Joseph Beuys, and Jeff Koons and used their creative works to help visitors reflect on the roles of shopping in our lives - shopping as necessity, shopping as leisure activity, shopping as escape, shopping as civic duty, and shopping as art.

The first installation was a full-scale grocery store called "New Supermarket." Artist Guillaume Bijl reconstructed a Tengelmann store that is stocked daily with fresh food and newspapers. The idea is to encourage people to observe their everyday consumer environment in a fresh way.

Putting the consumer under the microscope, the exhibit asks: What compels us to consume? Even though it's ultimately unsatisfying, why can't we stop? Are some societies free from the seductions of the consumer world?

Dan Cook, a sociologist at the University of Illinois Champaign- Urbana who has studied consumerism and children, sheds light on this love-hate relationship with shopping:

"The ugly side of consumerism exists because there is something deeply meaningful about shopping," he says. "Shopping is the provisioning of care, and the marketplace brings social intercourse and cultural exchange."

But the question of why we shop is not as important as the question of how we shop, argues Don Slater, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics. The morality of consumption - whether it's a good or a bad phenomenon - is less pertinent, he says, than how society is structured around consumption.

"We've come a long way from the idea that shopping is purely rational. It's somewhere between fantasy and reality," says Professor Slater, author of "Consumer Culture and Modernity."

Most people are not the dupes they're made out to be, he says. We're all subject to the forces of advertising and the media, but we can still think for ourselves and respond creatively to the bombardment of the marketplace.

In his book "To Have or to Be," Erich Fromm describes two states of existence. The "having" mode concentrates on possession, acquisition, and power; the "being" mode is based on love, sharing, and meaningful activity. By striving to exist in the "being" mode, we hold the key to shedding greed and egocentricity, Mr. Fromm argues.

But Slater believes the idea that we can exist in a pure realm of "being" rather than in a corrupt realm of "having" is a myth.

"Consumption is only one part of our relationship to the world. …

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