Holy Goods

Curated by Wolfgang Scheppe
28 Feb 2017 - 14 May 2017 | Johann Jacobs Museum

One of the oldest forms of Chinese folk belief, is still a lively tradition practiced everywhere in the culture of China and its diaspora: fire offerings sacrificing paper reproductions of money and goods that, by burning them, are handed over to deceased ancestors to mitigate their needs and satisfy their desires.
These paper models have recently changed from counterfeit copies of traditional products to replicas of goods found in any Western department store. The result is a kind of paper counter-world in which almost all of today’s globalized brand and market fetishes are given over to the fire – from well-known cigarette and fast food brands, computers and cellphones to Gucci bags, Hermès shoes and so-called premium car brands. This Hereafter lacks nothing in the cosmos of representative consumer goods.

For the Johann Jacobs Museum, Wolfgang Scheppe has chosen a palette of elegant women’s shoes from the collection of Hong Kong-based artist Rosanna Wei-han Li. These shoes are juxtaposed with the oldest remaining historical example of a Tang dynasty-era paper shoe offering, a testament to the cult’s long tradition in Chinese culture.

A look at Johann Jacobs’ exclusive shoe shop for the the dead shows something that seems as alien as it does familiar, and also offers a wealth of insights: We see the global reach and staying power that a Western middle class’ measure of material hopes and longings has attained with the worship of brand names and luxury goods. We see how quickly Chinese society aligned itself with this global order of needs, while playfully and subversively connecting it to a more than 1300-year-old ritual. It also directs our attention to the animistic fetishism inherent to the consumption of branded products, the utility of which lies not in their actual usefulness but in ideal participation in a system of quasi-sacred significance. Burnt offering and brand status comingle in the logic of representational magic, where desires are only ever satisfied vicariously through a substituted image – in effigy.


Wolfgang Scheppe ist the author of Migropolis, a benchmark publication on the city in the context of global trade. He curatet the acclaimed exhibition series Propositionen at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, which this current exhibition follows upon.