Anyone who came to the Inutilious Retailer was told they could have anything for free on two conditions:
1.They had to replace whatever they took with a new piece of art.
2. They had to be photographed holding what they made in their right hand and what they took in their left hand.
There were 14 garments on display so the 300 people who made art ended up in one of 14 long connected chains. As I have all the artist’s email addresses, anyone can get in touch with the person next to them in the chain
Click here or the ebook below to see those chains of Inutilious Retailer artists.
This short film on the unique free NYC store/gallery/art workshop, The Inutilious Retailer, was created by Jordan Horowitz and Jack Wilson and succinctly captures the experience of those who visited the 2015 International Store Of The Year winner
Thanks so much for Heather for being such a perfect “customer”
The Inutilious Retailer was designed as a community place for everyone to create art. As someone who created and had friends in the street art world, I had always planned on utilizing the store facade as a legal spot for different artists.
The front of the store was a prime Lower East Side spot and it was quickly embellished, including the first yarn bombed gate by London Kaye, the side panel by Wheatpastewoman/Phoebe and a doorway piece by Pyramid Oracle
The side panel was always a multi layer, free for all…
The idea to use the entrance for the basement as a kind of Street Art Advent Calendar was hatched and changed every couple of weeks
When Frank Ape added his piece, he combined it with a shirt inside which could be won if the slot machine was pulled and three of the characters he added to the blank reels lined up!
Street artists also used the store as a base from where they could put together art they were putting in the neighborhood
The Graffiti Garden
What I didn’t realize when I rented the store, was that included a huge back yard that was devoid of any graffiti except for this late 70’s or early 80’s piece that nobody had seen before or knew who created it.
I invited artists to add whatever they wanted to all the walls, with the condition that nobody went over the vintage piece.
One wall went from this
This wall started off just saying “where’s my bike?”
and ended up like this
Here’s some of the people responsible for transforming the space into a street art gallery Artists who were young
artists who had done graffiti for 40 years
or artists who tried it for the first time
but in the end, the garden became a place where even the floor was covered in art, where anyone and everyone could come, create, relax…
The public part of the store is designed to be a “curiosity filter”.
Some people walk past and do not see it. Some look in the window and carry on down Ludlow Street.
but hundreds of people are curious enough to come into the store, talk to a random voice and then decide to go through the secret door into the workshop and make a garment to replace the one they took – like these two…
At the end of the process, everyone was photographed holding what they made and what they took, emailed the photo and so ended up connected in a chain of random curious people.
6pm, September 1st at 151 Ludlow Street, NYC the doors of The Inutilious Retailer opened.
6 months to plan, 2 weeks to build and the guests of honor were all those who either came to the Art Sundays or helped create the store. These were the only people who were allowed to see the whole store without being customers.
It had gone from an empty shell to a complete store, lounge and art workshop in just 2 weeks and the renovation came in under budget at $2,300!
Photos were banned behind the secret wall of the store and I am so appreciative that nobody in the whole time it opened ruined the surprise of the secret back area by taking any sneaky photos. There was media interest from the media, such as New York magazine but I refused to let images of the back part be published.
And social media interest too but all respected my desire to keep the back area secret
But now, all can be revealed…
Lit only by the giant barcode, it had consumerism’s “costs” on the left side and “values” on the right side
Clothing is hanging on umbrellas, still with price tags from the Salvation Army and if you showed an interest in anything, there was no salesperson (the door was always open too but nothing was stolen) but a voice came from nowhere, then the wall mirror flipped forward and at last, the customer knew there was more to this minimalist store than met the eye….
A person asks you to pull the slot machine to prove you have an imagination
and if you come up with your own idea of what might be on the reels of the blank slot machine, you have just proved you have an imagination and are told you have won the garment you like for free – with one condition.
You have to come through the hidden door into the secret back area and make something to replace it.
Then you enter the wonderland where you sit down, relax with a coffee or glass of wine, pick a new piece of clothing off the rack to paint on and then start planning what you are going to create for the next random person who comes into the store. Taking as much time as you need and doing whatever art you want, without judgements….
A performance artist decided to question the difference between “cost’ and “value”.
The way they decided to do this was to buy a $60 white men’s shirt from Zara….
…and buy a very similar shirt from Prada costing $544, then swap the labels.
Of course, just changing the labels, doesn’t change the shirt, so the artist hid the words “Art” and “Fashion” and hand embellished the Zara shirt underneath the collar.
A note was added to each shirt which gave a link to the video below. The artist walked back into Prada and Zara and secretly put each garment back on the store shelves.
One customer presumably bought a Prada shirt in Zara for $60, another customer bought a one off piece of art in Prada for $544. The store got to sell each shirt twice. No customer emailed to ask for a refund.
The artist never heard from anyone regarding the project but the video has been watched, so at least one of the notes must have been found.
Because of the success of my Art Sundays, a day when everyone and anyone could come to my home and use the stamps to create art for free, I decided to expand the idea and open a free store in NYC.
So many people left the Art Sundays happier than when they arrived, yet all they had done was use the stamps to print on a t-shirt or canvas. They were reminded how enjoyable art could be, I was reminded how rewarding being altruistic can be and it felt like the stamps had come alive because they were being used again, maybe 100 years after being left to gather dust on a warehouse shelf.
I wanted to recreate the wonder of walking into my home and being surprised by the art workshop within, so the idea was to create a surreal monochrome clothing store, which confused all those who entered. But those who were curious enough to interact with a voice from behind a false wall would be invited back into a welcoming home and workshop that looked as though it had been hidden there for years.
Every ‘customer’ could have the garment they liked in the store for free but the condition was they had to come in the back of the store, make something to replace it and be photographed with both garments at the end of the process.
I hoped the store would inspire people to question why we are pushed to buy things to make us happy, why we think Art can only be created by artists and why it is important to have something in life that is nothing to do with making money – a hobby.
I found the things I needed – an old workbench off craigslist and vintage umbrellas off eBay
I bought 30 fluorescent tubes and made a light that looked like a giant barcode
Of course I needed to organize the stamps so people could get to them easily, so I bought 150 old bread trays and designed a shelving system for the store
The key to getting in the back of the store would be to pull a 1929 slot machine I had owned since I was a kid. It seemed the perfect focal point of a store that represented consumerism and capitalism to have a gambling machine from the year when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. I painted it white and it was ready for action.
Last but not least was the fictional Inutilious Retailer himself – Mr Herringbone Grey. Originally a pizza advertising guy, he had been thrown out 8 years previously and had become part of my family. I cleaned him up, painted him white and replaced his chef hat with a Phrygian cap – a symbol of the emancipation from oppression.
All that was needed now was a perfect location. I chose the Lower East Side because it still has a few remaining stores where things are made and sold on the premises. Retail and manufacturing were often directly connected, with storefronts selling everything from bagels to suits that had been made in the back of the store. In these times of internet delivery, I wanted to celebrate that history and so wandered up Orchard Street and down Ludlow taking note of the many empty stores until I came across the perfect location.
151 Ludlow Street, between Stanton and Rivington, NYC
and this is how it looked inside…
The realtor apologized that the back of the store was such a mess – I signed the lease immediately, knowing I had found the perfect spot..
I rented a truck and roped in some friends who moved everything in the space. I bought a vintage mirror from Craigslist that I designed the wall around and on the way to the store, we picked up an old leather sofa for the lounge area. $400 of wood was delivered to build the false wall, I put three vintage mannequins in the window to throw the inquisitive off the scent and spent two weeks building out the interior with only hand tools and an electric drill.
Total spent was $2,000
Famous NY typographer Louise Fili created a logo for the store and a monogram, which I had made into a banner for the outside of the store.
The only thing missing were garments on which to print. The first pieces of clothing were bought from Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters – stores that have a reputation for copying smaller designer’s work. My idea was to do the reverse – take their mass market designs and let people convert them into one off designs that would be given away.
Once those 14 garments had been used, I bought a stock of varied clothing from the Salvation Army. Firstly, because the money I bought them for would, as they say on their receipt, go to help others. Secondly, because the store was really about Salvation from consumerism.
The collection contains tens of thousands of vintage shipper’s ticket designs, still in their original printer packaging. For several years, an artist has been using the tickets as what street art refers to as “wheatpaste”, pasting them up in places as far afield as New York, Texas and Mexico City. Some are just simply stuck with no changes, others have messages applied and in a few instances, large installations have been created.
If you would like to see more, please click and follow @WheatpasteWoman on instagram
All the research and images on this website are from the personal collection of Adrian Wilson, a photographer based in New York.
All images have been registered for copyright and unauthorized use of them, or quoting from the text, without permission is forbidden.
I am the only one with these images, so if you use them, they came from me.
Please contact Adrian Wilson via email below