Today's world of merchandise and commerce exerts such a fascination that - now more than ever - most people end up succumbing to it. In our modern consumer society, the possession of certain assets accentuates our social status and conveys, temporarily at least, a sense of enjoyment. At the same time, private consumption plays a significant role in a country's economic performance. Cities were the first places to witness tangible evidence of this social change. Using the example of Luxembourg, the exhibition explores how the city has gradually developed into a retail place, a shopping haven even.

Approximately 200 years ago, people bought primarily what they actually needed. Producers formed trade guilds and sold their goods mostly directly to the consumer. It was only during the second half of the 19th century, in parallel with the emergence of industrial (mass) production and demographic growth, that trade diversified and specialised shops started to surface in the cities. Luxembourg was no exception: the period following the dismantling of the fortress in 1867 in particular and later the Belle Époque were marked by the advent of department stores, much like the true "consumption temples" that already existed in the European metropolises.

The exhibition reveals how the retail industry has continued to develop since this period of upheaval. These days, Luxembourg - much like other places - is home to only a few traditional businesses that hark back to the early days. The global economic crisis of the 1920s and 1930s saw the blossoming urban world of commerce face its first challenges, which prompted the creation of the 'Braderie', popular to this day. The economic upswing of the 1950s and 1960s and the concurrent increase in consumption brought new forms of sales with it, such as self-service shops and supermarkets. From the 1970s onwards, the population's increased mobility resulted in vast shopping centres being erected on the outskirts of the city. Today, a growing percentage of trade has shifted to the Internet (e-commerce), which has prompted the retail trade to reinforce the shopping experience through investing in shop design and service.

The exhibition features antique display cabinets, counters, cash registers, packaging, hat boxes, bags, advertising posters and window mannequins as well as historical toy shops, all of which evoke the charm of the "good old times" and are bound to trigger a wealth of memories. Nevertheless, the darker moments of history have not been overlooked, such as the "Aryanisation", i.e. the brutal expropriation of Jewish shops during the German occupation of the Second World War. The exhibition also provides an insight into moments of the early consumer world, today often seen as comical, such as the identification of shoplifting as a typically female "illness".

The visitor also discovers how photographic and cinematographic art has tackled the consumer theme, mostly from a critical angle - from the surrealists of the 1920s to the living environment of modern "shop addicts".


17 May > 30 March 2014