Reflections On Collecting Things


This exhibition, brought to our attention by a lengthy respectful review here, is the first time we have heard of this museum, but now that it is on our radar we stay tuned. This looks like our kind of show:

Object Lessons: The New Museum
Explores Why We Keep Things

Curators at the New Museum have created an exhibit with over 4,000 objects that examines the various ways we collect and own items.


We live in a sharing economy of collaborative consumption — services, not stuff. Crowdsourcing, peer-to-peer rentals like Airbnb: An interest, exemplified by millennials, in a temporary ownership of goods.

Apps, not objects.

What, then, to make of objects? In a culture being redefined by the way it consumes, what to make of people who collect things, who keep things? What to make of the personal archives, the private universes, the physical stabs at permanence and immortality that collectors create?

The Keeper,” the New Museum’s summer show, a four-floor exhibit that opens on Wednesday, July 20, is a museum blockbuster of a different kind.

With over 4,000 objects representing more than two dozen collectors, including contemporary artists making art conceived by collecting, Massimiliano Gioni, the museum’s artistic director, and his team of curators have mounted a remarkable series of object lessons about what it means to “keep,” the relationship of possession to loss, the madness inherent in love, and the undeniable importance of the individual’s voice in recording and interpreting history and its sweep.

“The Keeper” is its own cultural crowdsourcing, including Korbinian Aigner’s postcard-size still lifes of fruit, painted by Mr. Aigner, a German Catholic priest, while interred in the Dachau concentration camp, where he cultivated apples until his escape. Also on view are 3,000 photographs of people with their teddy bears, assembled by Ydessa Hendeles, a contemporary Canadian artist.

Mr. Aigner’s pomological studies were most likely an act of survival, focusing on the reassuring rationality of record-making during the irrational decimation by the Reich. And, like much of “The Keeper,” Ms. Hendeles’s “Partners (The Teddy Bear Project)” is a kind of unexpected infiltration into ordinary lives, a backstage look at the familiar spectacle of the 20th century as we think we know it.

“I don’t want to flatten it by saying it’s a show about collections,” Mr. Gioni said, sitting in the museum recently, concerned that many people associate objects with “luxury objects,” especially in the art world. Mr. Gioni explained that part of his intention for “The Keeper” was to look at ways of collecting and owning things.

“It’s not the economic value that makes the value of the object,” he said. “Notions of values are more complicated than keeping score at auction.”

There are no masterpieces in the exhibition, as one would expect of a major museum show.

“There’s no hierarchy,” Lisa Phillips, the New Museum’s director, said. “Each has its integrity as a project.”


A print from Zofia Rydet’s “Sociological Record.”Credit Fundacja Sztuk Wizualnych and Zofia Rydet Foundation

Yet every piece is a masterwork in its right. The exhibition includes the photographed interiors of “Sociological Record” by Zofia Rydet. In 1978, at 67, she took up photography with the purpose of documenting every household in Poland, as a way to reveal people through the things they lived with. Harry Smith, an American filmmaker and ethnomusicologist, collected string figures, also in the show, made by indigenous peoples around the world. In an interview in 1969, Mr. Smith said, “As far as I know, the string figures are the only universal thing other than singing.”…

Read the whole review here.


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