West 50th Street

There is a connection between the show window and art (theatre, painting, performance art ...), fashion, design (shop design, window dressing, graphics ...), architecture, and marketing (consumer research, merchandising ...).438 In literal terms, our chapter is set in New York, because we associate a lot of our reading material with this place. We will, however, not enter into an art historic or design theoretic discussion here. We have not undertaken any visual research in New York, but we will use a few selected historic examples in order to throw light from different directions onto our study of the seasonal sale window. The first relation we will be studying is that of art and show window design. In 1929, Frederic Kiesler published the book Contemporary Art Applied to the Store and its Display. He promoted the idea of using contemporary artistic techniques to improve the appearance and efficiency of the storefronts.439 But Kiesler was not solely preoccupied with the design of retail environments, he designed Peggy Guggenheim's art gallery Art of this Century where he experimented with new ways of displaying her collection of mainly surrealist art.440 From the 1920s onward, more and more artists were commissioned to do window dressings for elegant department stores.441 We believe that it is the works of artists that influence window dressing and not a specific show window designed by an artist; show windows usually hold little importance in the oeuvre of most artists. Particularly Surrealism has held an outstanding position in relation to window dressing. Even today, we see on 5th Avenue mannequins a la Salvador Dali, with extended arms so that thirty handbags can be presented on ]ust one arm.442 Show windows have a greater task than to entice customers into a department store:

"They sustain a tradition by blending advertising and street theatre into a very public form of installation art, understandable at a glance."443

438 We are mentioning only the ones we will discuss later on

439 Kiesler (1929).

440 Bogner/Boeckl (1988:103).

441 Schleif (2004) cites examples from 1900-1960

442 Moreno (2004:93).

It is of course the luxury show window in relation to installation art and street theatre that we are discussing here. It is a "beautiful" show window. And André Breton argued as early as in 1942 against the misinterpretation of surrealist art:

"Surrealism is already far from being able to cover everything that is undertaken in its name, openly or not, from the most unfathomable 'teas' of Tokyo to the rain-streaked windows of Fifth Avenue, even though Japan and America are at war. What is being done in any given direction bears little resemblance to what was wanted."444

This is also true of the many other art movements cited in the show windows. The surrealists were not all that interested in the beautiful; they wanted to overcome the clichés of perception by using inter-sub]ective ways of creation. They worked out various techniques to overcome the consciousness:

"Automatism reduces inhibition and therewith censorship which exercises the authority of the superego, of the culture business and public expectations. It deploys an anaesthetic, which enables us to evade control by family, tradition and society. Once again, we encounter exactly the two modes that Nietzsche draws on in The Birth of Tragedy. In this context, it is the 'separate synthetic worlds of dream and intoxication'. The dialectics used by Surrealism for arriving at new images can be explained by this 'duplicity of the Apollonian and the Dionysian', which connects Nietzsche with the development of art."445

Their anti-bourgeois attitude was also not a good basis for being incorporated into the economy of beauty. However, there was one aspect that attracted the merchandising departments of the stores: surrealistic art's ability to shock people. This meant that people would pay attention to the dramatisations in the show window.446 Merchandising literature regards the impact of surrealistic art with a degree of scepticism:

"In 1938, Sigmund Freud's introduction of the concept of Surrealism had an effect on the art of display. The application of psychological dream analysis to merchandising interrupted the growth of display

444 Breton (2005:282)

446 Salvador Dali's scandalous windows for Bonvit Teller became famous. See Schleif (2004:177-188)

Death of

I windows, did stop people as they passed, but only for laughter."447

The art of display (the beautiful?) is placed here in contradiction to surrealist art. The Dionysian does not enter the surrealistic show window in a ritualised form; it only varies the normal show window and the everyday perception of the beautiful. An interesting point is that the artists used automatism to let things that are normally unimaginable emerge. Things suddenly break out that lie deep within our subconscious. When we go back to the seasonal sale window, we ask ourselves what lies behind the Dionysian aesthetic practice? We do not think of it is an artistic concept, the way Surrealism was. But what is it then? Nietzsche explains the nature of Dionysian art in the following:

"At this point it now becomes necessary for us to launch ourselves with a bold leap into the metaphysics of art, repeating the earlier principle that existence and the upper world appear Justified only as an aesthetic phenomenon: in this sense the tragic myth has to convince us that even ugliness and disharmony is an artistic game which the will plays with itself in the eternal abundance of Joy."448

One of the few examples of the description of a seasonal sale window in glossy show window literature starts with a rejection of the ugly. This is why even Surrealism is not the most influential art movement here:

"A sale is not an excuse to leave windows unstyled and merchandise shabby and shoddy. (...) Window display meets Pop art as graphic shapes and colour-blocking assault the eye. Stop-'em-dead colours - red, yellow and black - pull no punches and the glass is used as the canvas for the display."449

The dichotomy between the ugly and the beautiful is an often-discussed issue in visual merchandising literature. Although the window described above is a piece of art according to the writer, it is also commensurate with many of the properties developed in our seasonal sale window. The windowpanes are painted, making it impossible to look through them. This is not a form of attracting but of attacking, and there is a total excess of colour. Andy Warhol, one

447 Mills (1982:22)

448 Nietzsche (2000:128)

449 Portas (1999:118).

of the icons of Pop Art had a more subtle view of the phenomenon of sales.450 He portrayed a shop in a series of photos eight days before it finally closed.451

<• A huge billboard says, "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS". It is posted on top of the storefront in place of the store's name. The windows are covered with posters: "Last 8 days", "Cash register for sale", "30 to 50% on everything". It is nearly impossible to look through the window.

A few days before it ultimately died, this shop showed most of the seasonal sale characteristics. The difference lay in the fact that there would be no ritualised resurrection to give new power to the merchandise. In the words of visual merchandising the show window looks "disordered, unplanned, with poor display technique, dull and careless, bad taste, negative effect", in short "unorganised charlatanism".452 All these properties refer back to the past of window dressing. Today's windows are "planned, professional, up to date business" which means "systematic, methodical, artistic value, bright and careful, attractive, tasteful, positive".453 The seasonal sale window and the everyday fashion window decoration can replace this dichotomy of past and present. It must be especially mentioned here that a lot of good investigations were made at the beginning of the discipline, and books were as ]ust as intelligent, if not far more intelligent than the ones today. It could, however, be difficult to find out what is meant by "artistic value". In all fairness, we must concede that art has influenced the art of window dressing, and that the show window in turn has inspired artists. From 1964 to 1967, the artist Christo made several sculptures in the form of storefronts. They were a further development of his "show windows" from 1963. Christo's storefronts are life-size and placed inside buildings. The glass windows in original scale are covered with a fabric, colour or packing paper, so that the spectator cannot see the inside, making it possible for us to imagine that something like a transformation going on behind the window.454 But a German window dresser was not inspired by storefronts while doing a spring window in 1970, but Christo's wrappings:

I "Try to imagine this window three or four years ago. Impossible! Just

450 Warhol wrote on window-shopping, "Looking at store windows is great entertainment because you can see all these things and be really glad it's not home filling up closets and drawers". He ends his article on window-shopping with: "When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums". In: Warhol (1985:21).

451 Hamburger Kunsthalle (1999:150-151).

452 Mills (1982:22).

453 Ibid.

454 See Bourdon (1964), Hollein (2002:162-163), Vaizey (1990:28)

Death of as unimaginable as much else was a few years ago. Today, our show windows are as liberated as fashion is, liberated of many things that were once part and parcel of the show window. (...) This campaign, 'liberated fashion', resulted in fashion disclosures in the literal sense of the word. Raw linen appeared all over like a rash, and we saw figures both cloaked and exposed. The trend was of starkly contrasting ware - eye-catching and imaginative use of minimal means produced astounding results. This work drew its inspiration from the wrappings by the renowned artist Christo."455

It is interesting that the phase of incorporation in this case is prolongated into the phase in which the new collection is introduced. The packed mannequins are partly leaning against the wall; some of them are frozen in the phase of unpacking while others are already unpacked. Haug criticised art for being in the service of capital.456 Does this critique also apply to the art of window dressing? Contrary to American artists, German window dressers are described as "commercial artists".457 But the show window was not accepted as an appropriate medium even in the field of fine art.458 We have already related the seasonal sale window to ritual. If we now relate window dressing to art, it might be interesting to throw a brief glance at the relation of art and ritual. Performance art is an art form that is closely related to ritual:

"In contrast to performance which dealt with formal properties of the body in space and time, others were far more emotive and expressionistic in nature. Those of Austrian artist Herman Nitsch, beginning in 1962, involving ritual and blood, were described as 'an aesthetic way of praying'. Ancient Dionysian and Christian rites were re-enacted in a modern context, supposedly illustrating Aristotle's notion of catharsis through fear, terror and compassion."459

Catharsis is the assumed motive in Nitsch's Orgies, Mysteries, Theatre projects. For Nitsch, art is an expression of ritual and by the same token, the ritual is an artistic expression.460 His artistic dramatisation of archaic sacrificial rites as performance art give us an opportunity of getting directly in touch with ancient ritual practices, to feel archaic fear, terror and comparison again. Understanding the

455 Anonymous (1970:10)*

456 Haug (1986:127).

457 Schleif (2004:150)

458 Weibel (1980:17).

459 Goldberg (1979:106)

460 Nitsch (1999:103).

seasonal sale in its archaic Dionysian dramatisation, as a catharsis of the visual economy of beauty, would be a valid option. At a time when the art of the individual window dresser is replaced by a collective representation of ugliness, representing the ritualised change from one fashion to the other, amounts to a collective representation of the sacrifice of beauty.

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