Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector – The Barbican

The Barbican played host to a very thought provoking exhibition showing off parts of the collections of a variety of artists from all over the world, sometimes interspersed with their own work to show lineage of inspiration.

The featured artists were: 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.

The collections didn’t really interest me in the way that it seemed to connect with the artists’ works as such as to just be an interesting thing that it is to have such an amass of curios. Each object in these collections has its own history and its own purpose, the collector has just brought them together, this in itself gives the item a separate meaning. Some of the items had obvious value, artistically, historically or in terms of their monetary value, yet the totality of a collection puts everything on a value depending on their display, pride of place and ornateness determines worth.

Furthermore, many of the artists had two fascinations: death and the human body, and junk from thrift shops or flea markets. I went to the show with Daniel Bandfield, who aptly quoted Stalin, ‘Quantity is a quality of it’s own’, which makes the mundane extraordinary, turning that junk into treasure.

The two collections that I enjoyed mostly, were both primarily concerned with that idea of death and natural history, those of Hiroshi Sugimoto and Damien Hirst.

Hirst’s collection on show was a variety of taxidermy animals including a 7 legged, two bodied lamb, a pangolin and a piece of his on show which was a magnificent display of insects, “Last Kingdom” from shimmering butterflies to large stick insects.


Damien Hirst, Last Kingdom, 2012
Damien Hirst, Last Kingdom, 2012

Sugimoto’s display had a set of glass eyes that I found would be a morbidly desirable set of items. Facing them were a trio of anatomical paintings by Jaques Gautier D’Agoty, with deconstructions of human bodies, layers removed to reveal the muscles and bones underneath. These had a beauty in both being for scientific interest as well as simultaneously carrying life-drawing qualities of art.

Jaques Gautier D'Agoty, Anatomy of a Woman's Spine
Jaques Gautier D’Agoty, Anatomy of a Woman’s Spine

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