Mall Cultural

When thinking  of mall culture, the absurdity of David Byrne and John Goodman in Texas immediately comes to mind. Since moving to New York however, events such as Bang on a Can and River to River Festival at the World Financial Center challenge my perception regarding  malls and culture.

Owned by Brookfield Properties Corporation, the Center brands itself as “The premier business address in New York City.” Not exactly the space you’d associate with musical tributes to Pablo Neruda, performances by  Ryuichi Sakamoto, and films like Ballet Mecanique or Entr’acte.

All these events are free, but, given the space, that should be expected. At its core, the World Financial Center is a space of consumption. We consume these free cultural events much in the same way we consume commodities–with open eyes and hungry hearts.

People don’t shop to buy, they buy in order to bring about the emotional euphoria of  shopping. In this way, “hedonic consumption designates those facets of consumer behavior that relate to the multi-sensory, fantasy and emotive aspects of one’s experience with products,”(Hirschman and Holbrook, (1982:92).

That these cultural events are hosted in a corporate mall devalue their meaning? Is musical aesthetic of Sakamoto  nothing more than corporate cultural?

Cities are infamous for corporate sponsored public art (Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc in Federal Plaza). Similarly, museums couldn’t exist without the exhibition patronage of  corporations. To what extent should sponsorship (be it locational, financial, or curitorial)  determine the meaning of a product?

The physical space reflects this indeterminate meaning between culture and commerce. The ceiling is a beautiful tribute to the glass and steel train station architecture of the 19th century. The palm trees could be considered tacky, but again we can associate them with atriums of the past. However, the rest of the interior architecture might as well belong in the set of True Stories.  The columns are bulky and awkward, the slick, polished floor a sick reminder to America’s relationship between capitalism,  sterile environments, and the encouragement of uniformity of group experience.

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