Consumer Cultures

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Session Chair: Stana Nenadic

Henning Bovenkerk (University of Münster) 

a silver spoon engraved with J:H:H Changes of materials, shapes and colours in probate inventories of rural households; north-western Germany, 17th-18th centuries

A ‘consumer revolution’ in early modern Europe is thought to have seen more and more social classes buying cheap ‘populuxe’ goods, imported commodities and new luxuries, leading to new forms of consumption and eventually paved the way to the modern consumer society. This change in consumption has inevitably led to a change of material culture and its perception by contemporaries.

The paper aims to analyse these trends on the basis of probate inventories of rural households of north- western Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries. It examines the change of different attributes (material, shapes, colours) of (home-)textiles, furniture, cutlery and crockery and thus the change of fashion and taste. With a special variety of probate inventories – so called Sterbfallverzeichnisse –, it focuses – in contrast to the majority of the existing literature – on the so far neglected rural middle and lower classes. Doing so, it gives new insights in the emergence of the consumer revolution and the connected change of material culture in a region apart from the well-researched Atlantic neighbouring regions – especially England and the Netherlands – and more importantly in the change of material culture of some of the largest population groups.

The paper will present preliminary results of the ongoing project at the University of Münster “Consumer revolution and changes in household consumption in Northwestern Germany, 16th to 19th century”.

Dr Alexandra Chiriac (Leonard A. Lauder Fellow in Modern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

‘Dada is the Best Paying Concern of the Day’: Consumer Culture and Peripheral Avant-Gardes

From Tristan Tzara’s titular parodic affirmation to Marcel Duchamp’s faux advertorials for Rrose Sélavy perfume, the engagement of Dada with commerce and popular culture is often shown to be critical and satirical. Such a reading supports an exclusionary definition of the avant-garde, perceived as an ‘authentic’ artistic endeavour that critiques bourgeois mercantilism and eventually loses its artistic value as it becomes adopted by consumer culture.

The return of Tzara’s Zürich artistic partner Marcel Janco to Romania in 1921 marks the diminishment of his art historical cachet, not only due to the ‘peripheral’ location but also due to his connections to urban consumer culture. This paper proposes that avant-garde resistance can take many forms, using as a case study the vanguard periodicals published by Janco and his colleagues. When, in the aftermath of the First World War, a newly enlarged Romania sought to establish its national identity, rural areas predominantly populated by ethnic Romanians were hailed as repositories of an ‘authentic’ local culture, in contrast to urban spaces inhabited in large proportion by ethnic minorities. Thus, when the periodicals of the Romanian avant-garde are filled with visual and verbal references to the performative spaces of the city, from neon advertising to shop windows and the latest Hollywood cinematic productions, they are carving out a space in which their predominantly Jewish contributors can exist. The Bucharest vanguard’s embrace of consumer culture functioned as an alternative disruptive tool, indicating that avant-garde movements included a wide array of artistic practices beyond those of canonical figures and locations.