Das grosse Stilleben (The Big Still Life) – Le Petit Grand-Magasin
An exhibition project by Littmann Kulturprojekte and the Museum Jean Tinguely Basel

From 18th May to 22nd August 2004, the Museum Jean Tinguely Basel will be holding the exhibition Das grosse Stilleben – Le petit Grand-Magasin. The exhibition is a co-production of Littmann Kulturprojekte and the Museum Tinguely. The show features a department store in Mugron in southern France that has survived largely intact some 30 years after it was closed. Das grosse Stilleben thereby casts daily life and the ubiquitous world of commodities in a new light, turning it into arsenal of memory and a hieroglyph for consumer society. Jean Tinguely and Kurt Schwitters (whose works are being displayed in parallel at the Museum Tinguely) have defined their art by drawing from this everyday world. This congenial aspect is what makes Klaus Littmann’s installation for the museum especially fascinating.

At the start of 2003, a friend told Klaus Littmann about the closed department store in the village of Mugron in south-western France. An initial visit confirmed the incredible: a department store whose doors had last admitted patrons nearly 30 years ago has been left in its original condition and regularly maintained and cleaned by its owners. Littmann immediately appreciated the extraordinary quality of this time capsule of contemporary history, and honoured the unintentional achievement of the store’s two owners by reanimating this frozen slice of the past in the present day and in a different context.

Out of this grew the project to exhibit the store from Mugron as Das grosse Stilleben and as Timebox, to interpret it both as a document of the times and a museum of the present and of contemporary art. Here, Littmann was heeding the words of Andy Warhol, who remarked in 1985 – when the department store in Mugron had already been closed for eight years: “Lock up a department store today, open the door after a hundred years and you will have a Museum of Modern Art.”

The original plan behind Das grosse Stilleben foresaw opening up the store as an on-site public exhibition. But when the owners objected to this, Klaus Littmann approached the Museum Tinguely. The museum in Basel is the first stop on a travelling exhibition organized by Littmann Kulturprojekte.

The installation in the Museum Tinguely is reminiscent of the Neuer Supermarkt (New Supermarket) exhibition by Guillaume Bijl in the Galerie Littmann in 1990. But whereas the artist installed a new supermarket in the gallery for that exhibition, Das grosse Stilleben is authentic to the minutest detail. Only a few perishable goods were newly added; everything else originates from the department store in Mugron.

The Museum Tinguely is exhibiting Das Grosse Stilleben in summer 2004 in parallel with the Kurt Schwitters collage exhibition MERZ – ein Gesamtweltbild. This combination is an ideal opportunity to present the department store, which has survived nearly 30 years intact, as a product of chance and of everyday life and as preserved reality and realistic Utopia in a larger and appropriate context.

Coinciding with the exhibition is the publication of a catalogue featuring texts from Martin Heller, Klaus Littmann, Guido Magnaguagno and Andres Pardey.

“When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums”
Andy Warhol