Supermarket of the Dead at the Royal Palace, Dresden

Supermarket of the Dead at the Royal Palace, Dresden

Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

Supermarket of the Dead, Zhisha Paper Shoes. Exhibition view. © Private collection. Photo: Adrian Sauer.

March 10, 2015

Supermarket of the Dead
Burnt Offerings in China & the Cult of Globalized Consumption

Proposition III
March 14–May 10, 2015

Royal Palace (Residenzschloss)
Hours: Wednesday–Monday 10am–6pm

An exhibition by Wolfgang Scheppe for the Dresden State Art Collections (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden)

One of the oldest Chinese folk beliefs proves to be a living tradition, one still practised widely throughout Chinese culture. Paper replicas of money and goods are ritually burned as offerings to win the favour of ancestors, gods and spirits and mitigate their needs, as the afterlife is thought to mirror the real world and the spirits of departed relatives are considered sentient beings. 

In more recent years, the paper models have undergone a transformation in which emulations of traditional objects have been supplanted by replicas of consumer products found in western department stores. The living want to provide their relatives in the hereafter with the same goods that they themselves desire. This has led to an alternative universe made of paper in which nearly all the globalised fetishes of brand consumption—Gucci bags, Prada shoes, Louis Vuitton suitcases, Chanel accessories, mobile phones, Apple computers and even Heineken beer cans and life-size cars—are committed to the flames as a tribute to the ancestors.

A Supermarket of the Dead installed on the reception floor of the Dresden Royal Palace showcases this mass of familiar yet alienated commodities. The presentation gives rise to significant insights. Confronted with evidence of the total world market for such goods, we are made aware of the universal primary of the West’s veneration of brand names and luxury products. We see how quickly Chinese society has become oriented to a global order of needs while simultaneously linking it to a ritual going back at least 1,300 years. And the exhibition also draws attention to the quasi-religious fetishism inherent in our own consumption of sought-after branded products whose usefulness lies not in their utility, but in the ideational participation in a system of meaning—and hence a theurgically charged relation. Burnt offerings and brand status are united by the logic of representational magic, in which needs are fulfilled vicariously through the image.

The contemporary exhibits, which are shown as a merchandise display within an abstracted supermarket, are juxtaposed in the exhibition with very rare historical examples of these paper models for burnt offerings from the depots of the ethnological museums in Leipzig and Dresden, illustrating the long tradition of this cult ritual.

The exhibition will also present the collection of the Hong Kong artist Rosanna Li, who has amassed hundreds of paper facsimiles of shoes over the past decades, providing a clear reading of the recent developments in such simulacra for the purposes of ancestor worship. 

The project has been made possible by the support of the Museum & Research Foundation.

Press contact: presse [​at​] / T +49 (0) 351/4914 2643


Supermarket of the Dead at the Royal Palace, Dresden
RSVP for Supermarket of the Dead at the Royal Palace, Dresden
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
March 10, 2015

Thank you for your RSVP.

Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden will be in touch.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for subscribing to e-flux

Feel free to subscribe to additional content from the e-flux platform.