OUR COLUMNIST ‘SCULPTURESTEPH’ DISCUSSES THE IDEA OF COLLECTING:
‘Collecting’ a big subject. The majority of museums found their origin in the private collection of an individual that may have been the incentive to build a purpose building to house the collection or to donate or leave a collection to a museum that is in the collectors eye appropriate (for what ever reason). At the heart of this action lies also the desire for preservation- or for having the physical manifestation of collecting preserved beyond the collectors life into the future, and the non financial argument for that is to make the individual items accessible to a much wider audience for future study, learning and inspiration.
It is also true that because of individual’s collecting objects and with them their narratives survive, many artefacts would no longer exist if left in their authentic context, through political, social, economical and environmental events.
In his book ‘Conservation Skills, Judgement, Method and Decision making’ the author Chris Caple looks into the history of museums and collecting but also defines and explores what the motivations behind an individuals collection and for collecting generally are.
He outlines 8 basic motives which underlie collecting and preserving objects (for us humans):
Curiosity, Understanding (scholarship), Control, Belief, Aesthetic, Value, Memories and Veneration of Age.
Often more than one of these are at play for one individual collector.
A collection no matter for which of these reasons collected, is therefore a physical expression of one individual’s (the collector) value and belief systems. Furthermore a collector may be seen as a curator- and his/ her collection become also an archive or document for the circumstances, environment, tastes, fashions, technology, trade, law at play and influencing the nature, focus and extent of the process of collecting. The objects become alive in the context of the collection and it’s history, like starting a second – or another life. It is re-interpreted in a contemporary context that not only assures the object’s survival but also to gain access to it’s historical context, and the views, beliefs and values of the past. The collector may not look at it that way- but nevertheless the collection is there with all its potential.
The Burrell Collection in Glasgow is a current example where the collection of one individual poses various challenges to its current management for it’s proposed re-display.
The collection of medieval tapestries, stained glass, Chinese Ceramics, Furniture, Armour, Sculpture, etc… was gifted by Sir William Burrell to the City of Glasgow but came with various conditions as to how the collection was to be displayed and that it had to remain in Glasgow and the UK and to not be loaned abroad.
I shall not get into the debate of what the recent overturning of Sir William Burrell’s Will through the Scottish Parliament means and what the consequences of this on the collection itself, and donation of collections to museums in the future may be.
What is safe to say, however, is that the view of the collection and cultural, economical, environmental, political and social circumstances have changed to the time when Burrell collected, and in many respects with him no longer being around the narrative of his collection, what it meant to him over time disappeared into the background and with it the insight into his values and motivations for collecting what he did.
Although it is only one individual’s view of his or her World expressed through the collection and may not make much sense to anyone else as such, it is nevertheless one window into one’s person take or statement on himself and the World.
What ever the motivation may be (and it is easy to judge past and present actions by our own individual standards as wrong) to collect- the process of it, by any one individual, is always unique to the ‘collectors’ taste, views, values and beliefs.
No one else may like it or the means by which the collection was acquired, but to that individual it is just as valid a collection as a Child’s treasured ‘pebble’ collection.’