Miranda July at Selfridges review

Art, Contemporary art Free
2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

Friendly warning! We're working hard to be accurate. But these are unusual times, so please check that events are still happening.

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.

Details

You may also like