I went to see the ‘Magnificent Obsessions’ exhibition at the Barbican. This is a series of rooms filled with the collections of 14 artists living and dead. On the quest as ever for something unusual to draw, I was pleased to find plenty of curious and odd objects to satisfy that need, but perusing the collections of each artist in turn got me thinking about the act of ‘collecting’ itself.
What does it mean to collect something? Is it the grouping together of near identical objects? Or It might be the differences of objects which allows you to bring them together; you like the way this jug looks when placed next to these silver handcuffs and this cactus. Or maybe you’re more categorical, bringing together stuffed animals like Damien Hirst, or grouping flora and fauna in a more general way.
The Victorians were big on collecting, and having a Cabinet of Curiosities (also known as a Kunstkammer, or Wonder Room) was quite a big status symbol, something to show your power and worldliness. Apparently even earlier in 1587, Christian the 1st of Saxony was advised that one needed 3 types of item in order to have a proper Kunstkammer:
3. Antlers, horns, claws, feathers and other things belonging to strange and curious animals
A life size plastic horse, a miniature theatre, a lamp in the shape of a cobra, to me this definitely falls more into the STUFF pile. If you collect stuff, is it a collection? Or just a group of things that you like? Are you just a hoarder rather than an intrepid devoted collector? Not that it matters.
Are creative people more likely to cultivate a collection? As it is something which may feed back into their work and inspire it or even become an extension of their work. Barbican featured American artist Pae White describes her collection of textiles as a visual library that she can refer to when working. My visual library is now largely online thanks to the internet and apps like pinterest which allow you to have a HUGE collection, without any of the financial commitment or risk of alienating loved ones by filling every available space and surface with seashells.
I suppose it really comes down to an individual’s personality and what sparks their interest as to whether or not they will have a collection. If they do have a collection, what do you think it says about them?