Supermarket to stack fine art in the aisles

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There you are, trolling round the supermarket, list in hand. "Cat food, bananas, chicken soup, honey ..." Well, soon, if you live in Germany, you can add modern art to the basket.

In what is believed to be the first time anywhere in the world that a grocer has ventured into the art market, the Aldi supermarket chain will be adding original works and limited-edition prints to the shelves, alongside sardines and tinned peaches.

The company has commissioned seven contemporary German artists (including one whose previous works include an installation entitled I Bumped Off Anne Frank) to produce 140,000 limited-edition etchings and graphic prints, each signed and numbered and with a price tag of €10-€15 (£7-£10). These will be stacked on shelves in around 1,450 of the cavernous, neon-lit branches operated by the chain's southern German arm, Aldi Süd.

Aldi, where you can pick up tea at around a 1p a bag and where a four-pack of loo rolls costs about 40p, has made billions selling groceries and household goods at ridiculously cheap prices since it started trading in 1948. This has turned its founders, brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht, into the richest men in Europe. The chain now has 4,000 stores across the world, and could make as much as €28m with its new venture.

But although "galleristas" maintain that Germans start buying art at an earlier age than Brits there is some doubt among customers. Ferdinand Jacobi, drinking in a trendy Berlin bar, was having none of it. "I buy art because I want to own something that no one else has," said the 29-year-old. His friend Johann von Hagen admitted he bought milk and butter from Aldi, but wouldn't go there for Kultur. Both agreed that Aldi really "does do the best champagne".

For the artists involved, making art affordable is a question of principle. "I want to bring art to normal people," said Aldi artist Felix Droese, the 53-year-old, famous in Germany for his 1981 Anne Frank installation. "You have to ask yourself, is it still art if only millionaires can buy it?"

Aldi would not comment on its new artistic venture, apart from saying the plans were "a test". But it doesn't look as if UK supermarkets are about to start commissioning struggling British artists.

"I think space might be a problem for us," said the Co-op's Martin Henderson - although he added that he didn't think the British public were philistines and it "would be silly to say Co-op would never consider it [selling art]".

Sainsbury's said it "sells picture frames" and wanted to highlight its newly launched home range, but had "no current plans" to sell art.

Even in Berlin, a city with hundreds of trendy galleries, people aren't quite managing the cerebral leap.

As student Nina Kokul said: "When you said Aldi was going to sell art, I was expecting photographs of semi-naked women wrestling with tigers."