London—Suppose a total stranger walked up to you and offered you 500 pounds (nearly $800) to take your handbag and display all its contents for the world to see?
That’s exactly what pluckish German artist Hans-Peter Feldmann did. Now those bags and their contents are part of his latest exhibition at The London Serpentine gallery.
The original owners of the bags are only identified by first name, age and city, the artist says.
It’s all part of the latest reality show-inspired notions where private citizens show off what in previous generations would have been considered off limits. Feldmann, who specializes in art derived from cultural artifacts, says his fascination with handbags goes back to his childhood.
Taboo: A Look Inside?
“I remember my mother and her handbag and it was a taboo to look at what was in it, a really strict taboo,” Feldmann recalls.
Of course, the artist allowed the handbags’ owners to keep important documents such as passwords or credits cards, but the cash in their bags was photocopied. All the rest of the contents are displayed, too, giving the viewer a glimpse inside the women’s lives:
“Susanne, 38, from Berlin, smokes an awful lot of Van Nelle tobacco roll-ups and wear Chanel nail polish; that Stephanie, 43, from Paris, likes Hari gum sweets; and Oriane, 27, from Berlin carries Ohropax classic ear plugs, aspirin, sunglasses, the single button in a plastic bag that you get from new clothes and never use, L’eau d’Issey deodorant, a city transport map and a scuffed up pair of flat shoes.”
Needless to say, Feldmann’s work has its supporters and detractors. Hans-Ulrich Obrist, co-director of exhibitions at the gallery, says the contents have much more of a retro feel than you would expect from the 21st century. “And how much paper is still there in all kinds of forms. In every bag there are business cards, name cards, postcards, invitation cards to exhibitions, tickets to see shows–in the digital age, there is a lot of paper.”
But even the artist said not everyone gets the point of his sometimes tongue-in-cheek work. “In Cologne, they are a very polite people but some visitors came to the show and said ‘we want to have our money back’. I don’t think they got it,” Feldmann says.
The exhibition continued through June 5.