‘ The value of Things explores the ways in which the collection and exchange of objects plays a vital role in our definition of cultural value. ‘ ( p.12 ) , I find that the questions raised in the book much relate to the subjects I am researching. This is a compromisse between not stating my work as anti-capitalist but recognizing in it some sort of manifestation against consumerism and society as we know it.
I wish to focus on cultural consuming behaviours and the links ‘ between retail and museum culture, the nature of which will continue to reflect – and change – the status of the things we make ‘. The book explores the issues of material culture in both commerce and museum perspective, with this I am looking to better define the objects I want to work with and how they are to be re-invented. and in which context.
‘ interpretation has supreseded intention ‘
The modern age is defined by easy access to material, goods, commodities . We accumulate objects and define ourselves in that process. The meanings that things carry come from the ‘encounters people have with them at specific times and specific places’ ( p. 20 ) , it’s all a matter of context. The authors identify the museum and shop institutions as agents of change that define the ways in which we relate with things.
MUSEUMS are defined as spaces where narratives are generated regarding all objects, images and information. Public curiosity for tangible can be satisfied.
Their origins relate to the Early Church and its drive to accumulate holy and cult objects. The collection was then presented by a member of the clergy, in a theatrical guided tour of faith and symbols.
The British Museum started in the mid XVIII century with the collection of the distinguished physician, Sir Hans Sloane. His collection was bequeathed to King George II with the condition of guaranteeing an appropriate building and the payment of 20.000 pounds to his heirs. The king passed this decision to a parlamentary committee constituted by 23 of the most influential men in the country. They funded the acquisition via public lottery.
It’s curious to see that in the first 50 years of existence you could only enter the museum if you were granted admission via previous application , and only in 1810 ‘ strangers ‘ were free to wonder the museum. Opening times were 3 days per week from 10 to 4 .
‘ As the eighteenth century progressed advances in science and an increasing confidence in human reason fostered by the Enlightenment began to dilute the power of theology in determining systems for ‘ holding thins in place’.
Information could now be forged into knowledge through an ability to recognise resemblances and discern objective differences between things. Observation, classification and inference replaced the tacit orer of faith in advancing learning, and in driving collecting practices. An insistence on there being a casula relationship between interpretation ( understanding) and objects , meant that the gathering and classifying of material evidence granted artifacts sovereign status in the accumulation of information. Furthermore as the reach of rational science extended, knowledge split into biology, mathematics and history; and then combined and recombined in the disciplines of language, physics and the law, until it almost seemed possible through learning to glimpse a comprehensive inventory of the known universe.
This was to be the age of the great encyclopedia, one marked by the dream of the systematic organisation of all things- and of the museum being the perfect institution to house them. ‘
(page31, 32 )
Darwin’s ” The Origin of Species ” revolutionized all thinking and understanding of the life and how values are manipulated and produce. This linear way of thinking translated into visual organization of Art History as we know it, a rational coherent display of things.
The museum evolved in the XIX century following order and democracy. It was subject to pressures to become more open and accessible to a wider audience, educating and promoting good values. For a better understanding for those who didn’t have the same knowledgable background as the higher classes changes were made to the display of things : Classical to Contemporary in a narrative structure of isolated objects in neutral backgrounds and labels with contextual information. The museum became a ‘total classification system’ ( p. 45 ) in which knowledge is communicated through a logical scheme that contextualised every object. As they were placed into the museum’s universal narrative , they were removed from any ‘system of exchange’ ( p. 47 ) of objects loosing their functions, becoming a representation of something else.
‘Sequence and order, description and label . ‘ ( p.47 )
The increasing complexity in the material led to a focus on classification and archive.
French shops were distinctive for their theatrical display of things. Bon Marché , Paris 1852, was the first ever continuosly growing retail operation. In 1869 Gustav Eiffel was comissioned to build in Iron and steel what soon became the model shop for the world.
‘ (…) Denoting the circulation of good and services through societies, exchange is able to express bot intense personal feelings and terrifying international power, to incorporate everything from an intimate lovers’ gift to the rules of th word-wide trade. Exchange is the mechanism by which objects are acquired, classified and displayed; it is the means via which economies are made visible and, simultaneously, gain an emotional , monetary or material texture. (… ) At the heart of reciprocal exchange between people lies the twin drives of desire and sacrifice; one person’s desire for an object, and another’s willingess to give up ( sacrifice ) the object for that desire or its representation ( another object or token ). (…) Modern exchange is not materialistic. It is not objects that people really desire, but their lush coating of images and dreams that mesh with a wider promotional culture fuelled by advertising and the broadcast media. Exchange helps to animate objects with value, and in doing so it weaves a dense social web of aspiration characterised by a cycle of desire, use and disillusionment. Disillusionment inevitably follows exchange; it is never the object which is consumed- instead, it is the relationship between us and the object of our desire.(…) The longing that haunts exchange grows from our inability to satiate our desires: we are unable to invest in one thing for any length of time before the object inevitably slides from favour. This process turns every belonging into a souvenir, a reminder of a momentary coherence; it builds collections out of products that have been bought, are no longer wanted and which need to be stored, producing an exhibition in every home. ‘
( p. 66, 67, 68. 69 , 76,77,78,79 )
Because of it’s expanding range of goods, there came came themes and structures to support the flow and display of products. The structured atmosphere of the business promoted competition between departments and translated into new ways of visual merchandising. Retail shaped out to be a system of constant flow of / from people and things in a theatrical exchange where the boundaries of aesthetic appreciation and of economic purchase began to dissolve creating a new leisure activity : browsing ( p. 69 ) .
The process of buying was now much more democratic and the flow of goods much faster . Harry Gordon Selfridges started his retail path in Chicago as an employee at Marshal Field store. Upon his arrival the store went through many changes to respond to the exodus of people from the country to the city. They were targeting Chicago’s burgeoning middle class women. Selfridges turned the store into an exotic wonder filled with spectacular goods from all over the world , defining a brand through association to ready-made cultura events. At the age of 50 he moved to London and in 1907 he started the construction of Europe’s largest retail building ever made. Launched in 1907 this 8 storey high had 6 acres of floor space, a roof garden , a library, a ‘ silence ‘ room, a bureau de change , a post office and bank, together with dramatic windows and imposing outdoor structure. A cohesive image was agressivelly advertised and kept on being refreshed and re-invented with innovative exhibitions and events that allured to the curiosity of the masses.
‘As art and science- related certainties engendered in the nineteenth century began to disintegrate, the consensus about what culture consisted of ( about which practices, learning , and types of participation were necessarily ‘cultural’) became increasingly linked to an expanding consumer culture. While the British Museum and other similar institutions were becoming ossified under the weight of bureaucracy, culture- participation in the acquisition and display of things- gained both a democratic veneer and new sense of urgency. ‘
( p. 106 )
Museums were forced to respond to the same forces as shops: entertain and audience, show results, achieve as much popularity as possible. To be recognized as a brand materialized in many forms forms as possible ( publications, merchandise, caffes… ). Museums have moved closer to retail, as have culture and economic purpurses . It’s a culture Industry.