Everyday Life as a Common Ground between Luxury Stores and Art Exhibitions
At the second floor of the three-levels Louis Vuitton store in Shanghai, one could see a stylish hammock as a center-piece exhibit on which lay a book in French describing traveling experience through the eyes, letters and novels of Marcel Proust. Apart from elegant prose in which the book covers invited its readers to immerse themselves into the pleasures of travel by bus, train, ship and carriage, it is the strange similarity of everyday life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to the present day that struck me as peculiar. The world of everyday experiences and impressions is definitely present at art exhibitions as well, as both modern and contemporary artworks do not shy away from focusing upon the minutiae of hospital interiors, rural highways and domestic environments. Moreover, alongside his more abstract images, Henri Cartier-Bresson also took photographs of modern artists of his generation that let them appear from the perspective of their everyday life.
This at first glance incongruous combination of everyday life and modern art has to a large extent been the subject of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time that more than anything gave everyday experiences their due as means by which precious involuntary recollections are released, mordant social observations are received assess to, and aesthetic perception is trained on mundane objects. Luxury merchandise in this respect takes this perspective a step further by elevating everyday objects to the status of nearly works of art existing in limited editions as photographic prints, made on order as portraits historically were, and conferring status not unlike collecting works of art might afford. Similarly, the everyday character of contemporary art makes it as accessible to the general public as prestigious brand-names are in terms of their near-automatic recognition as what they are in the field of art and in cultural consumption. In other words, the self-effacing quality of contemporary art and the affected simplicity of luxury accessories disavows the distance from everyday objects that constitutes their identity.
However, this distance, these distinctions and these differentiations are precisely part of the social, cultural and everyday world that Proust exhaustively documents. In this sense, Louis Vuitton Shanghai self-reflexively closes the circle between the artifice that turns everyday objects into signs of luxury and the reality of these accessories as means for a private dramatization of everyday life. In this regard, it is difficult to think of an author better suited to this task of measuring the distance between perception and objectivity than Marcel Proust.