In 1997, after several years of research I managed to curate a multi-site exhibition, this account is from a reassembled guide..
26th April - 21 June 1997
Exploring the depth and diversity of the collection...from Egyptian antiquities via 18th century paintings to Marilyn Monroe memorabilia..
at the Photographers Gallery, The British Museum, Habitat, The Royal College of Surgeons, Richard Lowe’s flat, Selfridges, Paul Smith, The Wallace Collection and Sir John Soane’s Museum.
On an individual and national scale we are associated with a bewildering array of clothes, tools, art, bibelot, gifts, cuisine, souvenirs, technology and rubbish.
Objects are spilling from every shelf, cupboard, display case, vitrine, supermarket, gallery, shop, museum and land-fill site. Societies are collective, we are defined by evolving methods to classify, structure and direct this material avalanche.
Many anthropologists and psychoanalysts believe our intimate notions of self-hood and the complex workings of society are constructed through our articulation of material things. Is it possible that we become synonymous with our patterns of accumulation?
From finding things in the street, lovers’ gifts, to international trade negotiations, we literally collect ourselves into being. By attending carefully to these practices, lazy distinctions between art and artefact, useful or luxurious, power and powerlessness may be exposed. This may in turn engender an awareness of the relationships of authority and privilege which enable some people to turn their private taste and habits into public culture, at the exclusion of others.
The activity of collecting, perfectly plays out the tension between the drive for order and the tendency towards excess and chaos implicit in our relationships.
The collection cuts across all categories of objects, from the almost worthless to the literally priceless. Collected things hold the promise of a coherent space within the profligate material world.
Conventionally, thinking about collections focuses on works of art and artefacts, on specific national collections, or the powerful men (my sic) who assembled them. The site of collecting is presumed to be the public museum, or a certain class of private household -now bequeathed or bought by the state to become a museum, for example; The Wallace Collection.
Museums are the space we have evolved to collect material things, images of nationhood are housed catalogued and displayed there, as are small personal obsessions.
Treasures of all kinds, looted, bought, found or stolen are woven into narratives of possession and belonging.
Objects, acquired, classified, catalogued and displayed are used to support images of nationhood, or intense personal obsessions. We are increasingly familiar with the idea of the museum as the ultimate destination of all past objects, or at least surviving examples of those things.
Recently it would seem, the museum has come to dominates the horizon of every material thing. To achieve museum status -as an object or individual- is to participate in the past of the future.
Collected borrows a definition of collecting from Susan Pearce in On Collecting; An Investigation into Collecting in the European Tradition (1995) as ‘a set of things selected as special and set aside’ and puts it into practice. The exhibition Collected recognises the museum as the ideal image of the collection, but also explores stores, shops, flea markets and domestic spaces as the sites -amongst others- for engaging in contemporary collecting.
Domestic and retail spaces are fused with the museum as the scene for exhibiting collected things. Retail culture has exploited our drives to accumulate in series, they hook into a deep seated drive to complete the set, things are increasingly manufactured to be collectable.
Photography has always played a central role in the construction of the collection, whether as the photographic double of an artefact, a document, stored in the museum’s archive, or exciting desires for things in the seductive sheen of advertising and promotion, or even accumulated, stored and displayed themselves in family albums or museums of photography.
At the Photographers’ Gallery:
Christian Boltanski Inventory of a man from Oxford, 1974
In 1973 Boltanski wrote to 62 museums throughout Europe and North America asking if they would collect all the objects belonging to a local resident and display them in the museum. The Museum of Modern Art in Oxford was one of the venues to respond by compiling a photographic record of every item, from toothbrush to wardrobe owned by a person from Oxford.
Ming de Nasty and Mo Wilson,
Have made portraits of local collectors who participated in Walsall Museum and Art Gallery’s Peoples Show. The collectors are shown amongst their their collections, which reveal an extraordinary array of personal obsessions, from salt and pepper condiments to James Bond ephemera.
Lea Andrews Made in Heaven/Made in Taiwan 1990 - 97
An audio and slide presentation scans an array of domestic objects gathered together in an ‘ordinary’ suburban home. The audio commentary reveals the personal significance these objects hold for their owners juxtaposed with an opinion of their financial price given by the voice of an expert.
Louise Lawler Collection of photographs, including Pollock and Tureen 1984
Since the late 1970’s artist Louise Lawler’s photographs have examined the different contexts in which an artwork is collected and displayed. Lawler has documented everything from the private home of the collector to the ‘pure’ white space of the Gallery, Museum or Corporate foyer.
James Sillavan Collection of 35mm slides and lightbox
Photographer James Sillavan ritualistically documents objects encountered during his daily routine, through which photography itself becomes the medium of collecting. Sillavan has evolved typologies of particular, recurrent themes, including; car tyres, urinals, washing machines and cinema seats.
Fred Wilson Portrait of S.A.M.
Portrait of S.A.M. was made during Fred Wilson’s residency in the Seattle Art Museum in 1993. It presents a series of portraits of Africans, Asians, Native Americans and Europeans from the museum’s collection of figurative artifacts, revealing how peoples of one part of the world portrayed peoples from another.
Collected slipped out of the Photographers’ Gallery to trace the passion for ordered material accumulation in various locations, all within walking distance, in central London.
The Wallace Collection
Hertford House, Manchester Square, W1M 6BN
Andrea Fraser The Lady Wallace’s Inventory of Contents of Hertford House
The Wallace Collection is a national museum which contains a diverse range of fine and decorative arts dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. It was formed by three generations of the Hertford-Wallace family and was bequeathed to the nation in 1897 on the death of Lady Wallace. Andrea Fraser’s project focuses on The Lady Wallace’s Inventory of Contents of Hertford House, and charts the transformation of a private house into a public museum - by exploring differences between the Inventory, Bequest and the Collection. Fraser has prepared a wall text for each of the Museum’s formerly domestic spaces which list not only those artifacts collected and bequeathed to the nation but also those thought to trivial of private to be worthy of preservation.
The British Museum
Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG
Fred Wilson: Gallery 25a
Fred Wilson is well known for his provocative ‘rearrangements’ of museum collections which expose the underlying value judgements inscribed within their displays. At the British Museum he has worked closely with the Department of Egyptian Antiquities. Intrigued by the Egyptian obsession with mortality, and the vain attempt at managing it, Wilson will retrieve a number of objects from the deep-storage of the collection, including obsolete display cases. Empty of their collected objects, their evocation of absence is all the more evocative.
Richard Wentworth: Gallery 25b
Drawing on the Egyptian Department’s collection of drinking vessels, Richard Wentworth will create a new display within the galleries. Juxtaposing these ancient objects -mostly recovered from ancient rubbish heaps, with their equivalents in contemporary life, questions of time and its passage mesh with our evaluation of ‘disposable’ everyday artefacts.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England, Hunterian Museum
35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields WC2 3PN
Susan Hiller: The Collection of Alfie West
The Royal College of Surgeons houses the Hunterian Museum containing the anatomical and pathological specimens, both human and animal, of the eighteenth century surgeon John Hunter. Susan Hiller inserted a modern collection of small vernacular art works into the museum. These obsessive pictures by the late Alfie West have been skillfully made from single human hairs, using surgical techniques of precision cutting and slicing. Their display in the Hunterian Museum highlights the implicit aesthetic of medical displays, while opening further subtle links between surgery and art. An accompanying text by David Coxhead will draw out theses intriguing connections.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields WC2A 3BP In 1833
Sir John Soane, the great architect and collector, established his house as a museum open to the public by means of an Act of Parliament. He stipulated that it be left ‘as nearly as possible in the state in which he shall leave it’. The house, modelled around the magical collection of casts, antiquities, bric-a brac and artworks is more or less as it was on Soane’s death in 1837. Special tours will be organised during Collected, see Events
196 Tottenham Court Road W1p 9LD
Guillame Bijl: Famous Furniture
Guillame Bijl is a Belgian artist who has exhibited widely in europe but rarely in Britain. He frequently transforms museum spaces into ‘other’ spaces of exhibition, including a TV quiz studio, a caravan showroom and auction house, which are all astonishingly real, and unnervingly out of place. For Collected he curated a furniture collection of ‘famous British people’ and installed it in the display vitrines of Habitat's premier store.
Selfridges and the British Museum
400 Oxford Street W1 1AB, and Great Russell Street WC1B 3DG
Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska: Browse
Museums and Department Stores offer similar, although perhaps structurally different ways of organising our relationship to the material world. Both present us with vast collections of things, and for Collected the artists have produced a specially commissioned guide which will be freely available in Selfridges department store and the British Museum. The guide, Browse invites you to consider particular associations created by contrasting methods of display; from the rarity and singularity of the museum artifact to the serial abundance of contemporary goods.
Paul Smith’s Shop
40-44 Floral Street, WC2E 9DG
Paul Smith is an enthusiastic collector of things - from robots, old seed catalogues to novelty pens and rabbits. The collections are in a constant state of flux and often provide a source for his fabric and designs. Tea towels for instance, might be an inspirations for a jacket lining, or old magazine cover saturated colours transferred to new fabrics. Items from his collection will be displayed in his Floral Street windows during the duration of Collected
Richard Lowe’s Flat
(see events for details)
Indulging a passion for all things ‘Egyptian’, freelance desiner an `Egyptomania' collector opened his astonishing apartment for public tours.
Collected Events, Tours and Talks
A treasure Hunt through the Photographers’ Gallery Bookshop
During Collected visitors to the gallery’s bookshop are invited to follow a trail which questions systems of classifying and organising knowledge. Like a library, the bookshop organises its collection in order to make sense of the vast range of knowledge available. Any classificatory system makes connections between things, but it is also based on exclusions, collecting produces order that is far from ‘natural’. The trail we lead from the serious to the sublime - from Walter Benjamin witty take on book collecting to anthropological orders, and in doing so will interrogate the irrationality and partiality of collecting and displaying knowledge.
The British Museum Collected Study Day
Saturday 17th May 1997 10.00 - 16.30
A opportunity to consider and discuss the many facets of Collected, from an individuals desire to accumulate objects of personal significance, to the public responsibilityof caring for a ‘national’ collection.
Curator of Collected, Neil Cummings' Director of the Freud Museum, Erica Davies' Principal curator of the Royal College of Surgeons, Caroline Grigson, Projects Director Walsall Museum and Art Gallery, Peter Jenkinson, Buying Director Home and Leisure, Selfridges, Mahipat Singh, Artists Richard Wentworth, Chaired by Professor of History of Art at Oxford University, Martin Kemp
Collected at the British Museum
Friday 16th May; 11.30am
James Putnam of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum has worked closely with Fred Wilson and Richard Wentworth to realise their projects at the Museum. He will give a talk and tour of their exhibitions in Galleries 25a and 25b.
On the Silent Message of the Museum
Monday 23rd June; 18.30pm
On the occasion of his first project in this country, the acclaimed American Artist Fred Wilson will talk about his past work and his current installation at the Museum.
The Wallace Collection, and its collectors
Tuesday 29th April; 13.00
Curator Robert Wenley will give a tour about Sir Richard and Lady Wallace
Monday 16th June; 13.00
Curator Stephen Duffy will give a tour and talk about Lord Hertford, collector of 19thC painting.
Richard Lowe’s Flat
3rd, 10th and 24th May 7th and 21st June. 13.00, 14.00 and 16.00 on each date
A unique opportunity to explore designer Richard Lowe’s Soho flat. Indulging a passion for all things ‘Egyptian’, every available space in Richard’s flat pays homage to his collecting obsession.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England, Hunterian Museum
Tuesday 6th May and Tuesday 13th May 13.00- 13.45
A curator’s guided tour of the Hunterian Museum to look at John Hunter’s 18th century anatomical and pathological collections.
Sir John Soane’s Museum Tuesday
6th May and Tuesday 13th May; 11.30 - 12.30
Assistant curator Christopher Woodward will take you through the Museum to explain how Sir John Soane, the great architect and collector, sought immortality through the great diversity of his collection.
Thursday 12th June 19.00- 19.45
Leave your credit cards behind and consider Selfridges as a museum of contemporary things. Neil Cummings, curator of Collected and co-creator of Browse acts as your guide for the evening.
The journal Inventory produced a special Collected themed edition
Special thanks is due to Paul Wowbell then director of the Photographers Gallery, and James Putnam, John Reeve and Callum Storrie (then at) the British Museum
Collected prepared much of the research for The Value of Things, relates to the Enthusiasts Archive and to some extent this Collection, it also collects to my intervention into the #ObjectOfTheWeek on twitter,
16-18 Ramillies Street