Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Curated to death

If there’s one word that’s been abused recently to the point of transparency, it has to be “creative” (as a noun). And if there’s another, it has to be “curate” (as a verb). Wandering through John Lewis in Birmingham the other day I was shocked (but shouldn’t have been) to stumble across this placard:

“We regularly update this space with a carefully curated selection of contemporary designers and standout pieces.

 Discovered. Loved. Curated. All here to be found.”

Space … curated … designers … pieces … found: the language of the art gallery. (Are retail displays yet tagged as “installations”? I expect so.) But I know this isn’t new. In 2012 John Lewis first used “Curated” as an in-house brand for their “boutique space” housing “bespoke selections.” Lately and more generally, “curated” has come to mean simply “offered for sale”. Here fine art and shopping have achieved a horribly overt congruence. But it’s no more than we deserve.

In this particular case, John Lewis’s “curated selection” seemed to be just a bunch of Urban Decay cosmetics, including Vice lipsticks. Again, nothing new, but the brand language is interesting here, isn’t it? It shows where the moral compass is pointing at this moment in the post-millennial flux, and that’s still firmly towards the dark side. Is it possible to imagine anyone keen to buy makeup labelled “Civic Regeneration” or “Virtue”? Outside of some Age of Enlightenment time travel scenario, I don’t think so, but the key question is: why not?


Urban Decay regularly use the language of junkiedom to give their products edge, and I notice that (at least in the States) their sun screen is tagged as “Urban Defense”. Already the fashion industry is not afraid to co-opt the frisson of terrorism, counter-terrorism and mass shootings, witness also the Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb aftershave, whose hand grenade packaging set off a security scare at Edinburgh airport a while ago. Not long now till the suicide belt moves from the bad taste fancy dress market into the high street. Just the job to hold a carefully curated selection of loved and found objects.



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