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Shopping depicted in art

Shopping depicted in art

Olimpia Gaia Martinelli | Nov 23, 2021 6 minutes read

Christmas is just around the corner, and with it, the shopping spree! But what relationship does art have with commerce? Some works of art have certainly represented a precious testimony of the evolution, occurred during the centuries, of the modalities of sale and of advertisement of consumer goods...

The shopping of the mass consumption society

We have reached the time of year that revolves around the most important event on our calendar, Christmas. Just in view of this holiday, shopping becomes the protagonist of our days, which are marked by a single goal: to find the perfect gift for our relatives and friends. In order to satisfy this last purpose, shopping becomes a source of anxiety, compulsive and frenetic, so much so that the masses literally catapult themselves inside the big stores, to buy relatively standardized and widely distributed goods. 

What we have just described perfectly portrays the typical attitude of our society, that of consumption and mass production, the birth of which, although it originated in the second half of the nineteenth century, took shape, in the form in which we know it, during the years of the economic boom (1950-60). In fact, between the fifties and sixties of the twentieth century, the mode of production of goods became repetitive and massive, giving rise to standardized consumer products and attractive to the masses, who could finally have, thanks to the growth of incomes, the money needed to channel to the unrestrained consumption of essential goods and not.

The architectural symbol of this new consumer society is definitely the shopping center, designed in 1956 by Austrian architect Victor Gruen, who was commissioned to design the first example in Edina, Minnesota. 

619cc536c43ea7.16818970_telemaco.jpgTelemaco Signorini, Mercato vecchio a Firenze (Old Market in Florence), 1882 approximately .  Oil on canvas, 39 x 65,5 cm. Private collection.

Shopping in Art: Telemaco Signorini 

Some works of art represent a precious testimony to the evolution of the ways in which consumer goods were advertised and sold. Telemaco Signorini's work, entitled Mercato vecchio a Firenze (Old Market in Florence), for example, documents the presence of a lively market in Florence, the fulcrum of the city's commerce, before the advent of department stores. 

This painting, which immortalized a city context often investigated by the artist, depicts a scene of daily life, thus falling within the tradition of genre painting. In fact, Signorini's work, despite the presence of the foreshortening of the street and of the dome of the Duomo, focuses on the description of the atmosphere of a market full of characters, who are intent on chatting, selling and observing. 

Regarding the pictorial style of the work, Telemaco Signorini was one of the main exponents of the Macchiaioli group, an artistic movement born in 1856 in Tuscany (Italy), which affirmed the inexistence of form, since it was created by light through distinct or overlapping patches of color. Consequently, to do "macchiaiola" painting, also called "macchia" painting, meant renouncing the academic practice of drawing, in order to execute a theme with a fast and synthetic stroke.  The spots of color were directly distributed on the support, in order to obtain a vigorous chromatic rendering of strong chiaroscuro contrasts. Precisely because of all these pictorial peculiarities, the Macchiaioli are considered the precursors of the Impressionists.

As for Telemaco Signorini's "macchia", it manages to express to the utmost the confusion of the market, thanks to a non-homogeneous disposition of the color, but spread little by little through decisive touches. The sky, the clouds and the buildings, on the other hand, are rendered by means of broader and more extensive brushstrokes.

Antonio Fomez, Invito al consumo (Invitation to consumption), 1964-65. Acrylic on canvas, 140 x 150 cm. Private collection.

Shopping in Art: Antonio Fomez 

After Signorini's Market, dated circa 1882, society continued to evolve toward mass consumerism, which is immortalized by Antonio Fomez's work, Invitation to Consumerism, dated 1964-65. Antonio Fomez is an exponent of Italian Pop art which, like American one, shifted the object of artistic interest towards the myths and symbols of consumer society. In fact, the artist's acrylic depicted some cult products of Italian consumerism of the sixties, which had become a true symbol of the lifestyle of the bel paese. Most likely, this acrylic by Fomez was inspired by Andy Warhol's works depicting mass consumption objects, such as Campbell's cans. In addition, Fomez's Pop art also shares the following characteristics with Warhol's:  depicting consumer goods in order to appeal to all strata of society, without worrying about devaluing the value of the work of art; exalting the banality of everyday life by depicting everyday objects; making explicit the cultural humus in which the artists are immersed, and which influences their aesthetic canons; transforming each image into an icon, but without having desecrating or ironic intentions as the new values of consumer society are simply documented.

img-0008-modifica.jpgBruno Geda, Plastic bang, 2017. Wooden sculpture, 60x40x40 cm.

Shopping in art: Bruno Geda 

In the innovative sculpture of Bruno Geda, artist of Artmajeur, the objects of mass consumption dear to Pop art are not represented, but an envelope that could possibly contain them. Consequently, the focus of the work shifts from the object of purchase to the place from which it comes, indicated in this case by the logo on the envelope which, although not legible, clearly refers to the name of a well-known supermarket. Finally, Geda's work also has links with Pop Art, such as: the absence of fear regarding the possible devaluation of a work of art, which draws its inspiration from everyday life; the exaltation of everyday life and its places, such as the supermarket; the explication of the cultural context in which the artist was formed, which is that of consumer society.

img-0293-1.jpgBenoit Montet, Niquols supermarket, 2017. Oil on canvas, 80 x 120 cm.

Shopping in Art: Benoit Montet

The oil painting by Artmajuer's artist, Benoit Montet, depicts neither consumer objects nor their containers, but the place where shopping takes place, the supermarket. The latter, unlike Signorini's market, is not a place that leads to socialization, but to isolation. In fact, people inside the supermarket stop in front of the shelves, contemplating the cult objects of our society: consumer goods. Even outside the building, as depicted in Montet's painting, people approach the entrance of the supermarket divided into groups, proceeding directly to the front door, without interacting with each other. Finally, Montet's work beautifully represents the reality of today's world, characterized by loneliness and contemplation of new consumer objects.

f0bb565c-8efd-4a13-8f2b-783578f46683.jpgAndrea Berthel, Canned koi consumotion/the shopping queen, 2020. Oil on canvas, 100 x1 00 cm.

Shopping in Art: Andrea Berthel

The work of Artmajeur's artist, Andrea Berthel, while depicting a fish box, departs from traditional Pop art for several reasons: first, the box of consumer goods no longer alludes to a popular brand, but to the artist's own name. Secondly, the fish box, which is innovatively open, shows some famous clothing brands inside. Finally, the painting, which no longer alludes to popular goods, but to luxury goods, no longer represents objects cherished by the masses, but by an elite.

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