Thomas Gokey
Futures of the Avant-Garde
ink on canvas, strobe light, fortune cookies, wood
Text from Paco Underhill, "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping" (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 208.

Underhill uses the techniques of field-based anthropology to study how people behave in retail settings. He then analyses the data and sells it to corporations who use it to modify their spaces to better manipulate consumer behavior. This piece utilizes Underhill’s recommendations in order to stand out among the hundreds of works of art in the MFA thesis exhibition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The text reads: “Endcaps and freestanding displays are staples of American retailing. Some of them succeed and some fail, depending on how they work once they are placed in the store. As with signs, you can’t say which are good and which are not until you see them in action. The latest trend in displays is the so-called activated fixture—one that uses movement, especially moving lights, to get the attention of shoppers. Our testing of types of fixtures has yielded some impressive results: In soft drink coolers, the activated version was noticed by 46 percent of shoppers, compared to 6 percent for the nonactivated one. An activated endcap got 37 percent notice, compared to 16 percent for the old-fashioned version. But at a certain point the displays begin to cancel each other out. There are so many fixtures screaming for the shoppers’ attention that they become the visual equivalent of a dull roar, with nothing discernible among the clutter. Merchant prince John Wanamaker once said (and I paraphrase) that half his advertising was waste—but he couldn’t figure out which half.”