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This week only, you can do your weekly shop at the Design Museum

22 April 2021

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

While museums and other ‘indoor entertainment venues’ in the UK may still be shut, shops (along with gyms, pub gardens, and hair and beauty salons) are now open. The logic of the UK government’s approach to easing Covid-19 restrictions has now been called into question rather imaginatively, with the Design Museum’s decision to reopen its gift shop as a supermarket.

This week the museum in South Kensington, in collaboration with Bombay Sapphire gin, is inviting visitors to browse – and buy – a range of artist-designed ‘essential products’, from toilet roll to cans of kidney beans. Rakewell naturally has his eye on a bottle of Bombay Sapphire decorated by an artist called Ruff Mercy. ‘Supermarket’, designed by Camille Walala, is open from 21–25 April and all proceeds go to the Design Museum’s Emerging Artists Fund.

There is plenty of precedent, of course, for artists who have turned to ‘essential shops’ for inspiration. Just think of Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol (1962), the canvases originally displayed on shelves as though in a grocery store. Or Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy (1992), or the handmade felt products that fill the shelves of Lucy Sparrow’s ‘Bourdon Street Chemist’, currently on view at Lyndsey Ingram (until 8 May). So convincing is the latter installation that certain confused customers have apparently attempted to buy actual supplies from this counterfeit chemist.

A view of Lucy Sparrow’s Bourdon Street Chemist (2021).

A view of Lucy Sparrow’s ‘Bourdon Street Chemist’ (2021). Courtesy sewyoursoul/Lyndsey Ingram Gallery

There have been more practically minded projects as well. Your correspondent is particularly fond of Jenny Holzer’s condom wrappers from the 1980s, printed with messages such as ‘MEN DON’T PROTECT YOU ANYMORE’. Who said art wasn’t essential?