When Artists Collect…
The greatest of artists have been notorious for their love and hobby of collecting. The American photographer Walker Evans was actually the focus of a show hosted by Metropolitan Museum of Art which talked about the connection between his collection of 9,000 picture postcards and his generous body of work. Incidentally conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg who attended the show, also had this hobby in his boyhood.
This showcase actually led to some great minds posing the chicken and egg question, wondering whether it is the hobby of collecting that initiates and artist or is it the artist who naturally gets attracted to ‘collecting’. The passion for collecting among artists has a varied range from typewriters, gramophones, films, posters, magazine clippings, album covers, books, and comic books.
The underlying thought that makes the artists collect is mostly the fact that these objects are a reflection of the world around them. Whether it is a book, prints or works of art by other artists, these collections have served more often than not as a muse, prop, reference material, and even as a lucky charm.
Of the prominent names, Picasso was known to collect African Masks, Le Corbusier would collect shells, pine cones, pottery, and glassware that would serve as his inspiration in architecture and some became props for his still life artworks. Barton Benes had an obsession for celebrity relics and he was known to incorporate all kinds of materials like Frank Sinatra’s nail clippings or Bill Clinton’s throat lozenges. To enrich and create his wunderkammers, Mark Dion was known to roam and spend considerable time in the flea markets and collect articles of a curious nature. And probably the most prominent of them all was Andy Warhol, who created a memory box on a monthly basis and would send it away to be kept safe in his storage. The Warhol Museum is still exploring and unsealing most of it! Isn’t that a rich resource and gateway to the lives of these maestros?
There isn’t really a crisp connection between what an artist collects and what they put forth as their work. It is easy to fathom Damien Hurst owning skulls and taxidermy but it never ceases to surprise people that photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto would collect 18th century French & Japanese anatomy books, or Howard Hodkin, an abstract painter from Britain would be an admirer of the paintings from India’s Mughal era.
There might be a lack of clarity about the way anything inspires a creative work, but collecting in itself is a creative pursuit. It equips one, from a very young age to explore, understand, and organize the world, whether it is through a jingling roll of coins or a bursting scrapbook of stamps.