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— The Art of the Deal: Catalogue Essay by Chantal Faust

The Art of the Deal


Desire projects onto the shop window. We stand before this seductive membrane. There is no way to conceal our own reflections. Duchamp knew this well and he recognised the sharp flood of remorse that gushes forth when a pane of glass is penetrated with the possession of the object of desire.

And what if there is no glass to break?

According to Amazon.com, your shopping cart lives to serve. Its symbol, a graphic of a supermarket trolley, is reliably found in the top right corner of the web page. Another icon, a blue tabbed folder marked ‘shopping’ is automatically supplied by web browsers, filed and filled for your convenience. The online shopping experience is an echo of the global economy, currently in a state of crisis, where monies that have never existed in the tangible world are being physically experienced in their deficit.

The ‘make believe’ was once synonymous with illusion but it no longer seems to be. In an odd rotation, its current interpretation is more true to its literal definition: we now believe in what we make. Belief. The edict of the make believe affects contemporary systems of production and influences both libidinal and art economies. In 2004, an auction house in New York sold Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (I Shop, Therefore I Am), a 1983 serigraph on vinyl, for the recordbreaking price of $601,600. Dreams really can come true.

Jan Murray’s latest works are dream catchers. Painted with precision, the drooping handles that are traced by their own shadow offer the viewer just enough information to allow us to recognise this representation of a shopping container. The canvas-cum-bag carries the symbol of that final crescendo of desire: the space between consummation and release. Where the luxury shopper is mobile in its horizontal skip and sway from boutique to boudoir, Murray’s containers are fixed.

It is not a case of never being able to see inside, but a recognition that there is no inside nor outside: there is only side. These lustrous surfaces resist us with their cool beauty and ‘just looking’ - far from being the browser’s retort - is all that we are able to do. Within this salon of silvery surfaces there is no glass to separate us from what we want. The look of want has been codified into a colour chart as Murray presents us with a tautology: a shopping bag is a painting is a shopping bag. This is not art as consumer culture as with Oldenburg, Warhol, Koons or Hirst. Rather the collection of shimmering wrappings and holes signify the regenerative skin of culture itself. This is not a shop, it is shop: a pulsating, elastic organism that has no concept of limitation. Shop until you drop.

Jean-Antoine Watteau was mortally ill when he asked his friend Edme Gersaint, a famous art dealer in early eighteenth century Paris, if he could make a painting to be hung above the entrance to his business. L’Enseigne de Gersaint (1720) is a trompe-l’oeil decoration. The painting reveals the interior of the shop within, picturing finely gowned customers surrounded by a gallery of gilt framed oil paintings and mirrors. The shop resembles a theatre stage and yet these actors in their box are presumably reflecting the engagements of the characters below. The artist has deliberately chosen to dissolve any actual barrier between the shop and the street so that the gallery seems to spill out onto the pavement. A woman who appears to have one foot in each realm accentuates this lack of division. At the time, Watteau knew that he was dying of consumption. The self-commissioned shop sign was his final work.

Jan Murray’s paintings are not shop signs but they are signs of shopping. Just Looking presents us with the possibility of an enduring consumption. With both feet in one world, we can traverse the space of these paintings as spectators in a gallery or buyers in a store. The eroticism in these works lies not in the illustration of the affairs of consumers but in the distillation of this romance into a captivating binding. This surface wrapping harnesses the decoy on which this tug between the consumer and the consumed depends. It is that vibration between the lines, that momentary glint of opalescence and that second of suspended disbelief as to just what it is that you are looking at. Murray’s themes belong as much to the history of art as they do to the history of philosophy. This is the art of the deal.

Chantal Faust 2009




Since its establishment in 1984, the Charles Nodrum Gallery’s exhibition program embraces a diversity of media and styles - from painting, sculpture & works on paper to graphics and photography; from figurative, geometric, gestural, surrealist & social comment to installation & conceptually based work.