Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector

Barbican Art Gallery

12 February – 25 May 2015
Opening hours: Saturday to Wednesday, 10am – 6pm
Thursday & Fridays, 10am – 9pm, Bank Holidays: 12noon – 6pm
Ticket prices: £5 – £12, Under 12s: Free
www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery

Review by Dieneke Ferguson

Andy Wharhol's cookie jars collection. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

Andy Warhol’s cookie jars collection. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector is the first major exhibition in the UK to present the fascinating personal collections of 14 post-war and contemporary artists, including Arman, Peter Blake, Hanne Darboven, Edmund de Waal, Damien Hirst, Howard Hodgkin, Dr Lakra, Sol LeWitt, Martin Parr, Jim Shaw, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Andy Warhol, Pae White and Martin Wong/Danh Vo. Their collections range from mass-produced memorabilia and popular collectibles to one-of-a-kind curiosities, rare artefacts, and natural history specimens.

Damien Hirst collection. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty images.

Damien Hirst collection. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty images.

Curated by Lydia Yee, the exhibition presents a selection of objects from the collections of the artists alongside at least one key example of their work to provide insight into their inspirations, influences, motives, and obsessions.

Dr Lakra's record covers collection. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

Dr Lakra’s record covers collection. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

I was very much looking forward to this exhibition, particularly as like many others I have been a collector for years now. Not anything valuable, just frogs. I was therefore interested in seeing what others are collecting and whether any big names in art shared my passion for the green little creatures. Unfortunately with the exception of Andy Warhol who had a frog in one of his collections, no one actually seemed interested in them, although there were those collecting elephants, or Cookie’s Jars.

Andy Warhol's artwork. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

Andy Warhol’s artwork. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

The exhibition is rather overwhelming as it consists of the varied collections of known and less known artists. At one level one ends up admiring the amazing collections that the artists have amassed. They often reflect personal interests and obsessions and in some cases one can detect a link between the acquisitions and the artist’s work. Sometimes, however, the choice of artefacts seems to have been made on a purely visual basis.

Hanne Darboven artwork. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

Hanne Darboven artwork. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

While many artists make direct use of their collections for research and study purposes – sometimes incorporating individual items into their own work – others keep them under wraps or in storage. Some artists are connoisseurs, carefully shaping their collections and selling objects to make new purchases, and others accumulate hoards of things, never letting anything go.

At another level it raises the question about the art of collection and the relation to one’s own collections.

The exhibition is definitely worthwhile visiting as it offers the chance to admire the huge diversity of collections on display.These are just some of them:

Andy Warhol was an avid collector, and in some instances kept his collections under wraps or in storage. He also included a Frog in one of his collections. Damien Hirst collected skulls, taxidermy and medical models. Dr Lakra from Mexico collected record covers and scrapbooks. Visitors also get access to the eclectic contents of two rooms from Hanne Darboven’s family home in Hamburg

In another section we see 20th century British postcards and Soviet space dog memorabilia from Martin Parr.

Martin Parr's Space Dogs collection. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

Martin Parr’s Space Dogs collection. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

Elsewhere we see a collection of thousands of objects assembled by Martin Wong and subsequently acquired by Danh Vo.

Martin Wong collection_Dahn Vo artwork (detail). Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Imag

Martin Wong collection_Dahn Vo artwork (detail). Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Imag

There are also more than 1,000 scarves and other textiles by the American designer Vera Neumann from Pae White

Pae White's artwork. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

Pae White’s artwork. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty Images

And we also see examples of British vernacular culture from Peter Blake

Peter Blake collection. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty images

Peter Blake collection. Magnificent Obsessions_The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery. _Peter MacDiarmid, Getty images

Throughout history artists have collected objects for professional and private reasons – as studio props, sources of inspiration, references for their work, personal mementos and even as investment. Collections have traditionally been amassed with the objective of building and transmitting knowledge. Artists too share this aim, but towards more personal ends. Unlike museums, artists do not typically take a scholarly approach to collecting, nor do they seek to assemble comprehensive and representative collections. Reflecting personal interests and obsessions, their acquisitions are usually made in tandem with their own work and on a visual basis. While many artists make direct use of their collections for research and study purposes – sometimes incorporating individual items into their own work – others keep them under wraps or in storage. Some artists are connoisseurs, carefully shaping their collections and selling objects to make new purchases, and others accumulate hoards of things, never letting anything go.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican Art Gallery, said: “What a joy to have brought together the treasured private collections of the fourteen artists in Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector. The thrill of collecting is something we can all relate to, and I am sure visitors will enjoy this deeply personal and endlessly fascinating show’

Lastly, I couldn’t help but include a picture of some of my frog collection.

Part of Dieneke Ferugosn's frog collection, 2015

Part of Dieneke Ferguson’s frog collection, 2015

 Events Programme

In Conversation with Edmund de Waal and Andrew Graham-Dixon
Wednesday 22 April, 7pm
Frobisher Auditorium 1, Level 4
Tickets £10 full price, £5 Young Barbican
Broadcaster and journalist Andrew Graham-Dixon in conversation with acclaimed potter and Magnificent Obsessions artist, Edmund de Waal.

London’s historic collections with Maev Kennedy, Wellcome Trust & Sir John Soane’s Museum
Friday 22 May, 7pm
Frobisher Auditorium 1, Level 4
Tickets £10 full price, £5 Young Barbican
Journalist Maev Kennedy chairs a discussion with Ken Arnold of the Wellcome Trust and Abraham Thomas of the Sir John Soane’s Museum in a lively conversation centred on their favourite objects from these venerable, eccentric London institutions.

Workshops & Family Events

Butterfly Preservation workshop with by Margot Magpie
Saturday 11 April, 11am – 2pm
Frobisher Room 1, Level 4
£65 (includes same day entry to the exhibition)
Margot Magpie, taxidermy artist, teaches the art of butterfly preservation showing how to preserve, handle, set, and pin butterflies. Each participant will be able to take their specimens home for drying and mounting. A variety of colours and shapes of ethically sourced butterflies will be available.
No experience is necessary to take part in this workshop and all tools and materials are provided. This workshop is open to adults (over 18) only.
Limited availability, booking essential.

Exhibition Tours

Exhibition tour with Luke Naessens
Friday 3 April, 7pm
Art Gallery
Tickets £12 (includes same day entry to the exhibition)
Barbican Exhibition Assistant Luke Naessens gives a tour of the gallery discussing the artists and their collections.

Exhibition tour with Dyvik Kahlen
Thursday 16 April, 7pm
Art Gallery
Tickets £12 (includes same day entry to the exhibition)
Chris Dyvik and Max Kahlen of Dyvik Kahlen Architects lead a tour of the gallery with insight into how the unique character of the artworks and collections influenced the exhibition design.

Exhibition tour with Viktor Wynd
Thursday 7 May, 7pm
Art Gallery
Tickets £12 (includes same day entry to the exhibition)
Artist and collector Viktor Wynd of The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities Fine Art gives a tour of the exhibition.

Exhibition tour with Sophie Persson
Thursday 21 May, 7pm
Art Gallery
Tickets £12 (includes same day entry to the exhibition)
Magnificent Obsessions Barbican Associate Curator Sophie Persson gives a tour of the gallery, with insight into the artists and their collections.

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