Even though communications and financial transactions have been swept up in digital data streams, goods still must be transported physically. Thus, the container—even more so than the computer—epitomizes the global trade interlinkages of the modern world.

Containers are simple, standardized receptacles that can accommodate all sorts of things: food and weapons, electronic appliances and scrap paper, sneakers and medications. As standardized and stackable entities, they are suitable for trucks, freight trains, cargo planes, and container ships. Introduced by American freight companies in the 1950s, the container has become a global standard.

Containers save time, allow large quantities of goods to be transported, and enable industries to operate facilities outside of central locations. They have changed working methods and made job performance as invisible as the products in their interiors: hidden away behind the sober housing of the container, cargo remains anonymous and replaceable.

The boxes, coffers, trunks, and caskets on display here do not have much in common with impersonal containers. They stem from an earlier era of global trade (the 16th and 17th centuries), when gestures and symbolic acts still were greatly valued. Of course, that era also had its unadorned casks and crates, yet many shipping cases conveyed messages that went beyond their function as a means of transport.
Vargueno: Spain, early 16th c.
Is local production... ?


Spain, early 16th c.