Best Before
Article by John Fleming and Marian Bradshaw

n a world of commodification, history and art become commercial products subject to the extremes of the marketplace- a lock of Napoleon’s hair, a fragment of Nelson’s uniform up for auction, the funerary detritus of ancient tombs on display for the price of admission as a Sunday afternoon entertainment.

The crowded marketplace leaves little jostle room for museums to propose the relevance of the past to the purpose-built obsolescence of today’s world of objects. Within this scenario they are compelled to reposition themselves as purveyors of commercial goods and as drop-in centres, with blockbuster shows that lead the visitor through expositions ending at the cashout counter of the gift shop. Similar reversals hold true for merchandisers who mimic the glory of historical figures and styles with designer labels, celebrity endorsements and semi-precious materials, in sophisticated environments that follow the display principles of galleries and museums.

The business of culture occupies in some of its most mordant forms a central role in this hierarchy of selling. At the lower end, and in a direct and unpretentious fashion, we find the shops that specialize in “memorabilia” or “nostalgia” ranging through souvenir items, everyday objects and used clothing recalling period styles and fashions as we knew them. The role of “readymades” or “found objects” has in contemporary practice evolved into a more conceptual and sometimes very subtle procedure. It borrows forms and functions from well-known historical precedents, in a way that subverts both, by reprocessing our perceptual habits through modifications to form and denial of function. Such procedures bring together historical items and the curatorial approaches of a museum with the art market objectives of commercial success through perceptions renewed.

As with most things ironical and postmodern the question remains, where do we go from here?

Image: Best Before, 2008
Creamers by Ricochet Studio
Left creamer 5 x 2.5 x 2.5cm
Slip cast porcelain
Photograph: ©Ricochet Studio
Courtesy of MADE