“Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector” at Barbican

By Sunday, March 8, 2015 0 0

(Feature Image Source: London Town, www.londontown.com/LondonEvents/Magnificent-Obsessions-The-Artist-as-Collector/e68d1/imagesPage/113101/)


12th February – 25th May
Tickets: £12 Adult, £10 Concession

The exhibition Magnificent Obsession at the Barbican (on until the 25th of May) displays the personal collections of fifteen post-war artists. Organised as a “museum-within-a-museum”, the display features over 8000 objects of all kinds and sizes. From artist studios’ re-constructions to vintage display cabinets and archives, each setting offers a glimpse into an artist’s personal belongings.

Inspired by her visits to artists’ studios, the curator Lydia Yee conceived the idea for this exhibition with the aim of displaying that which is meant to remain hidden, and she admits, the endeavour was not easily accomplished as many artists were reluctant to unveil their peculiar habits. The motivation for such original interests varies from artist to artist, some are irrational addictions, others experimental researches, many appear as residues of childhood fantasies, but one thing they do have in common, they all demonstrate methodical dedication.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s collection of fossils hints at his fascination for the origin of the world, as exhibited in his photographic series set in the Natural History Museum of New York and his experimental photographs “Lightening Fields”. Damien Hirst’s stuffed animals evidently point towards his signature dead animals artworks, of which we get a glimpse in the exhibition with his insect composition “Last Kingdom”. Other collections are more surprising such as Pae White’s colourful textiles, Arman’s Japanese masks and Martin Parr’s soviet souvenirs.

Many reviews have praised this exhibition, the New York Times and the Financial Times both offer amusing insights on the artist’s opinions and the backstage stories regarding the show’s orchestration. It is a pity that these narratives are absent in the display. What are supposed to be personal chronicles loose their quirky charm in the formal white rooms of the museum and the conventional wall texts offer no revival. For what regards the display’s emphasis on the owners of such objects the truth is that few artworks are exhibited here and there, for most artists one must rely on memory to invoke associations, that is, if one is familiar with the artist in question. One cannot criticise the impeccable organisation of the display, once more the spacious rooms of the Barbican have been given justice, but one does start to doubt weather the narrative of the exhibition is strong enough to support such strange choice of artefacts. Magnificent Obsessions overflows of peculiar objects but lacks personal insights. This shortfall inevitably renders the experience of the exhibition more like strolling along a sophisticated backyard sale.

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