Monday, 2 June 2014

CONTEMPORARY COLLECTING

MUSEUM MONDAYS

BY ALEXANDRA JEFFERY

3D printed gun "The Liberator" which will be on display in the
Rapid Response Collecting exhibit,  photograph from Dezeen

Primark jeans purchased after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, photograph

Opening this summer at the Victoria and Albert Museum is a new exhibit called Rapid Response Collecting. The press release can be found here. However, other than the press release, I can't seem to find much else about the exhibit on the V&A website. According to the press release objects like the 3D printed gun above; a pair of jeans made in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, after its collapse; Katy Perry Cool Kitty false eyelashes; and a Lufsig IKEA toy, as well as other items. The intention is to collect items that have certain cultural significances, in a time in which they retain those specific significances. Feel free to read about the objects mentioned above here.

Exhibit in Shenzhen, photograph from Dezeen

This collecting strategy was initially used in Shenzhen, where V&A curators Keiran Long and Corinna Gardner asked citizens to choose objects to put on display that would say something important about their current city and current lives. Gardner said "These objects together tell a story about that city in this moment and offer a broader, more wide-ranging portrait of one of the most interesting, fast-changing cities in the world today." Check out an interview with Keiran Long here.

The V&A exhibit leads me into talking about collecting contemporary items. With the strategy above, the intention is more towards items that have an immediate and significant meaning that can be used to explain current culture. The other type of collecting, that is simply acquiring contemporary objects for posterity's sake is also demonstrated by the V&A, read an article about the V&A's history of collecting the twentieth century here.

Vivienne Westwood Autumn/Winter 1993-4 platform shoes,
donated by Vivienne Westwood, photograph 

Ostensibly, contemporary collecting makes sense, the items are on the market currently and are not therefore priced as old or rare; and the objects exist in multitude, there are many to acquire.

Furnishing fabric by Marc Foster Grant, "Haircut? Yes Please!"
1973, donated by Marc Foster Grant, photograph

The reason I have been thinking about this is that my internship is sorting through a private donation of fashion related ephemera. My job is to assess the material and in what museum/archive/private collections it will best serve. Lately I've been coming across quite a lot of more recent material: formal wear catalogues from Toronto retailers from the 1980s, Eaton's and Simpson's mail order catalogues from the 1970s, even obscure French magazines from the 1990s. All of these collected largely during these decades. From our perspective now they seem useful or relevant, but the prospect of collecting current objects, like the style book for Holt Renfrew Spring 2014 seems a bit useless. And for museums, why acquire that when it could acquire early 20th century advertising material from Ryrie Brothers Jewellers?

Page from a 1970s Eaton's catalogue

 Further, my pondering led me to wonder if every museum started collecting contemporary material in one hundred, or four hundred years' time would items from the early 21st century no longer be rare? Would an object be one of millions instead of the one example of pre-1600 dress the V&A has in its collection?

2 comments:

  1. This topic is totally fascinating - it is interesting that museums such as V&A point out that they are collecting culturally relevant objects (have they not always done this? at least this is what we all hope, right? :). What is even more interesting to me is the different hierarchies and the collapse of hierarchies which happens in museums which tend to collect everything. This is so much tied to contemporary perspectives on objects, to the attention we pay, as a society, to all the objects around us and to the rapid pace of with which we replace objects. I think this is a great topic for a paper should you wish to ponder more on this matter.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a fantastic topic! It is really interesting to see how museums collect contemporary culture. Being able to explain the significance of the objects as contemporaries of that culture prevents the disconnect that some curators have when they are examining the value of items which were culturally specific to societies hundreds of years ago. However, it does makes me wonder what kind of cultural biases can be found in what is collected. Also, is rapid collecting a sustainable practice for museums which already have the responsibility to retain and care for so many things? Great article Alex!

    ReplyDelete