Charity shops and Oxford Shark

30Aug09

On the way back from the South we pulled into a side street on the outskirts of Oxford. What a delight to have come across one of the most interesting pieces of Brit art public art. We were simply wanting to have a look at the charity shops which appeared to be in abundance on the high street. I would say that this surreal artwork was far more impressive.

I got a sixties green woollen tie and William Orbit CD. I must admit I was suprised at how expensive the charity shops were. We also bought an fold up easel which we romantically imagined had been used in the Ruskin school.

The views of Mary Portas “queen of shops” had obviously been digested on the shop floors of Oxford’s second hand emporia but seriously, £6.99 for a Goreki CD, or a variety of well worn primark labelled garments at up to £5 each!

I have read with interest recently in the Guardian newspaper, a whole series of discussions about the prices being charged for books in charity shops. The debate opened out into what these shops are for. Are they like any other retailer? Well, since most of the stock is donated, and the profits go to good causes, then I think the answer is probably not. They do need to make a profit, and they do need a number of paid staff members. They also, however, need to be realistic about what price the consumer is prepared to pay.

We enjoy shopping in these places for the randomness of what you might find, for the chance of supporting a good cause, for an opportunity to contribute to an alternative consumer economy, for finding retro stuff. There are no other shopping experiences quite like this. If you walk the high street you are likely to find lots of specialist shops, and department stores. You know what you are going to find inside each one. Only in a charity store or an antique shop will you find a 1950s camera, a pair of brogues, a rare jazz cd, a hardback Ian McEwan first edition, a Harris tweed winter coat. There is a sense of discovery, a kind of real life eBay about it. Now that’s a novel idea; Internet shopping you can walk around.

The Headington Shark, as it is better known, is actually “untitled 1986” by sculptor John Buckley (John Buckley). It was commissioned by the owner of the house and erected on 9th of August 1986, so a precursor of Britart, which was the 41st anniversary of the use of the Nuclear bomb on Nagasaki.

The owner Bill Heine wanted something that would express a sense of impotence, anger at the individuals lack of control over his situation.

The sculpture has not always been popular with the local council but their attempts to have it removed were finally rejected by the government in 1992.



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