Miranda July at Selfridges review

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2 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
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Miranda July at Selfridges review
Artangel & Miranda July at Selfridges (2017). An Artangel commission. Photograph: Stuart C. Wilson/Stuart Wilson/Getty Images

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

Charity begins at home, unless you’re Miranda July, then it begins in Selfridges. The US filmmaker, poet, author and artist’s latest project is a charity shop with difference: a work of art that unites four different faith-based organisations under one roof. The London Buddhist Centre, the Norwood Jewish charity, Spitalfields Crypt Trust and Islamic Relief have combined to create an interfaith charity shop based on donated stock, and staffed by their own volunteers. Awww.

They’ve gone to great pains to recreate the ‘charity shop experience’ in the middle of one of the world’s most famous department stores. It’s its own little world, a perfectly detailed chazza right next to all the ludicrously priced Vetements gear. It’s got everything you’d expect: dog-eared and sticky-paged copies of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ for £3, Britney Spears in ‘Crossroads’ on DVD for a quid, a (hopefully unused) Borat-style posing pouch for £3, a sunhat for £6, men’s work shirts, old trainers, bric-à-brac, blouses, etc.

Which is nice and everything, but… why? July says that when she came to London in her twenties she was amazed by the vast variety of our charity shops. This project builds on that by combining it with her long-standing desire to create a truly participatory art event. In the process she’s passing comment on rampant consumerism, community relationships, racism and religion.  And she really, really means it. July is genuinely and wholesomely earnest about the project.

Look, it’s great for the charities and it’s a really lovely, well-meaning idea. But Christ in an eight quid TM Lewin shirt, is it ever heavy-handed and flawed. July is saying that bigotry and consumerism are bad (no duh), but don’t worry, here she comes with her interfaith charity shop to solve all of your problems. It’s over-simplistic and patronising. Plus, if the idea is to make shoppers think about the amount they pay for stuff, it’s totally undermined by the fact that the whole art project acts as free publicity for a major department store.

There’s a real poverty tourism vibe here too. It’s as if the act of buying something in a charity shop is some novel, immersive experience, when for many people it’s just a necessity. Watching people swarm around a charity shop in Selfridges while patting themselves on the back for healing social rifts is a little icky, isn’t it?

It’s not clear if the piece is making a difference, or if it’s just meant to look like it is. As a charity shop, it’s good. As a social project, it’s fine-ish. But as a piece of art, it just doesn’t work. It has none of the depth of thought or engagement it thinks it has. It’s benevolent but shallow, positive but blinkered, benign but boring.

I don’t know, go along and buy some stuff, help some charities out. But treat it like a shop, because if you treat it like art, you might be disappointed.

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Tastemaker

If you are embarrassed at shopping at thrift/charity stores or have never actually been in one, this place may be for you, especially as it's perched next to expensive designer boutiques on the third floor of Selfridges (but I did have to ask three different staff where it actually was until I found it because I didn't see any signage). The staff are earnest and pleasant but the selection as such stores go is pretty ordinary here. The clothing was nothing to shout about, and the selection of homewares and books is rather small. The shop is certainly worth a look but I'll keep shopping an Oxfam, Shelter (often with discounted but new Marks and Spencer's goods) or similar store on the high street.