November 28, 2014
November 28 is International Window Shopping Day. It’s “the activity of looking at the goods displayed in shop windows, especially without intending to buy anything.” Without a doubt, this is my favorite holiday. There is nothing more profound, or beautiful, than leaving one’s house around dusk, and wandering around an urban shopping area to look at window displays. To be absolutely honest, I have never seen a bad window display. Even the “bad” ones have a certain amount of soul and spirit, that I find truly moving. Due to my phobia of being contained in a box-like room, for instance most museums and galleries, I much prefer my art-viewing to be outside among the masses. Saying that, aesthetically speaking, I don’t like official “public art” or so-called graffiti works. My art-viewing is basically window displays from everything to the local record store to the most luxurious department store. It’s very democratic in that you can be poor, rich, middle-class or totally insane - and yet we can all enjoy the spectacle that is the window display.
Although I prefer window displays in larger urban areas, many small town shops are also quite pleasing to the eye and soul as well. Maybe your small town, if you live or visiting one, may have a block that is focused on retail shops - this too can be fantastic. When I travel, I usually go to the same cities. London, Tokyo, Paris, New York City, and of course Los Angeles. Each city has their own aesthetic with respect to window displays. It is almost as if the entire city has a fingerprint, and of course we know that each fingerprint is unique and special. If you blindfolded me, and kept me in a dark room for a few days, and then eventually let me out and place me in front of a display window (with no text on display) I can guess what city I’m just by the display. Saying that, with respect to the five cities above, I really don’t have a favorite. Each one has a unique and special presence. All good and a total win-win situation. As Stefen Zweig wrote: “Time to leave now, get out of this room, go somewhere, anywhere; sharpen this feeling of happiness and freedom, stretch your limbs, fill your eyes, be awake, wider awake, vividly awake in every sense and every pore.” Window shopping opens all my senses to another world, and displays often express a world that seems similar to the one we live in, but of course, it is not.
For me personally, a window display doesn’t make me want to purchase something, but it does make me admire an object or how that object appears in conjunction with the rest of the window dressing. The bigger department stores have a whole narrative working, and in a way it reminds me of the Kabuki Theater, in which you see a landscape in front of you, with no real point of focus. In holidays, specifically Christmas, there is a narrative being played out. My favorite was Macy’s window, where a little boy awakes, to discover Santa Clause coming into his room. There is something that is both touching and erotic at the same time. Perhaps alarming as well. Nevertheless it was animation done with puppets, and if you get close to the window, one can marvel at both the technology as well as the crafts(wo)manship of the work.
I don’t have a preference when it comes to objects in a window. A book can just be as fascinating as a hammer displayed in a hardware shop window. What one sees is a curated way of looking at the world, and as a viewer I can walk by and look at the display as either sales merchandise or a window entrance to someone’s soul, mind and heart. Walter Benjamin in his book “The Arcades Project” commented that “Something different is disclosed in the drunkenness of passion: the landscape of the body… These landscapes are traversed by paths which lead sexuality into the world of the inorganic. Fashion itself is only another medium enticing it still more deeply into the universe of matter.” Clothing always has an erotic presence, and it's amplified when placed in a public window. I’m a voyeur, and there is nothing like a public window to satisfy my desire.