STOP SHOP: The Frightening Authority on Christmas

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Published December 14, 2009

PHOTO BY ISABEL ASHA PENZLIEN

New York’s Port Authority might seem like a location more hospitable to panhandlers than high-concept holiday shops. But it’s this sense of the perverse that made the bus hub the perfect location for design company Areaware’s latest project, STOP SHOP. An artful pop-up shop for fashion and design products, the sprawling store was curated by photographer Keetja Allard and Tyann Jackson, and designed by artist Item Idem (aka Paris-based artist Cyril Duval with creative partner Kalena Yiaueki) in collaboration with retail consultancy Philip Attar Creative.

“I tried to tell a story of an adult Christmas, some kind of dark fantasy, hybrid between gothic sensibilities and pop references,” explains Duval, who previously designed the Bernhard Willhelm flagship in Tokyo by filling it with trash. This is his first retail experiment in the U.S. With a name that combines low-end supermarkets and a protest of holiday consumption, STOP SHOP’s windows feature wide-eyed penguins with menacing grins, confusing Thanksgiving turkeys and Easter Bunnies, and a line-up of miniature Lady Liberty figurines dipped in multi-colored latex. The Simpsons are arranged in front of this motley Christmas crew, their heads used as planters for bunches of red poinsettias. According to Duval, this display is a reaction to the shock of coming to New York, as a tourist or anyone susceptible to over-satiation, “As a new New Yorker, [I felt] it had to be tacky and funny.”

Duval’s work got a less than merry response from the Port Authority staff when he brought in some materials that, according to Areaware were not in the original presentation. The artist, who asserts that he did not stray from the approved pitch, claims that staffers affiliated with the Fashion Center BID demanded the removal of burnt and distorted Santa and Nativity lawn ornaments, citing the burned materials’ fumes as the reason for the sculptures’ imperative disposal. Duval saw the incident as less a health matter and more a matter of censorship, a suspicion that has not been confirmed: “I was surprised to see such a conservative reaction. But it pushed me to be more insidious, less expected.” Duval altered his design to fit more conservative restraints: instead of melting the Santas, he covered lawn ornaments with animal noses and masks, “making them more funnily weird than ugly and dark.”

In response to Duval’s claims of censorship, Areaware representative Laura Hwang says that, “Areaware does not approve of Duval’s portrayal of censorship by the Port Authority and the Fashion BID. While we support Duval and his artistic vision… the ideas in question were never approved in the original presentation for the shop. Duval was brought in midway through the process. Moreover, the space is public; it’s not a private gallery. As owners of the space, the Port Authority has every right to question any installation which they did not previously approve.”

Censorship debate aside, the store is stocked with a myriad of high-design goodies. In addition to what one would assume are approved artworks by Item Idem, a pyramid of Strida bikes, Lite Bright Neon Chandeliers, textural winter looks from Lauren Kovin, cozy pieces from Pelican Avenue and Swarovski embellished items from threeASFOUR are some of the store’s highlights. Kidrobot’s art toys make for quirky stocking stuffers, as do Harry Allen’s “Hand Hooks” and displayed on the center table, a collection of multi-colored piggy banks (also by Harry Allen) fit right in with STOP SHOP’s wonderfully merry, and slightly disturbed, holiday shopping experience.

STOP SHOP IS OPEN THROUGH JANUARY 2. THE PORT AUTHORITY BUS TERMINAL IS LOCATED AT 641 8TH AVENUE, NEW YORK.