At the end of January, the news on social media of a Migros carrier bag selling for several thousand Swiss francs drew gasps of amazement. The bag was sold by a London auction house for more than CHF 5000. How can that be? The short answer is that it is down to the art market. For a more detailed answer, we have to take a closer look at the corpus delicti. The paper bag worth a five-figure sum is what is known as an artist carrier bag. It was designed by French-Swiss artist Nicolas Party in 2014.
Every year, in collaboration with the Migros Culture Percentage, Migros Zurich produces two carrier bags designed by artists. They sell for CHF 0.30 at Migros stores just like ordinary paper carrier bags. Some 60‘000 bags of each design are thus brought into circulation. In addition to Nicolas Party, other well-known artists including Pipilotti Rist and Walter Pfeiffer have designed a Migros carrier bag. «We also approach artists who are not so well-known, but who have attracted attention in the art scene. So you can also see the project as promoting art. Overall, a good mix is very important to us», commented Heike Munder, Director of Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst a few years ago in the Migros magazine. «While some people regard them as art, others simply collect the bags because they like them. That’s what makes the project so thrilling,» she adds.
So could it be that you have a small fortune lurking in your wastepaper collection? Not quite, unfortunately. Although the artist carrier bags enhance the streetscape and let us all carry art over our arm, they are unlikely to increase much in value, if at all. The Migros carrier bag that was recently auctioned for a lot of money is one of a special edition signed by Nicolas Party. In each run of artist carrier bags, 80 are numbered and signed by the artist. Due to their rarity, these Migros carrier bags may become a worthwhile investment.
Just a year ago, another Party edition bag sold for the equivalent of CHF 14‘000. «The high prices commanded by the Nicolas Party carrier bags are a phenomenon and also took us by surprise,» says Nadia Schneider Willen, Collection Curator of Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst on the auction news. «The high prices stem from the fact that Nicolas Party is a shooting star in the international art scene, and his works are in high demand on the art market,» as she explains.
Photo/stage: Pedro Wirz artist carrier bag, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst