Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector

This spring the Barbican hosts Magnificent Obsessions, an exhibition displaying a wealth of kitsch memorabilia and odd artefacts through the Wunderkammer, better known as the cabinet of curiosities. The likes of Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Hiroshi Sugimoto bare all with their intimate collections of treasured objects on show, hinting at each artist’s creative tendencies and obsessions. Allowing us to take a look into the hidden lives of artists and their studio hoardings, Magnificent Obsessions is an eclectic spectrum of an exhibition, if not tangled and perhaps misleading at times.

The first wonder-room exhibited in the Barbican’s Art Gallery contains a pairing of Hiroshi Sugimoto and Damien Hirst’s prized possessions. A combination of gruesome medical instruments and anatomical portraits hang opposite estranged, feral taxidermy caged within glass cabinets. Hirst’s spectacular range of colourful butterflies and insects splay out on the walls, captive beneath framed display cases.


Following this juxtaposition, a more clumsy display of objects comes to the surface in the centre of the lower galleries. The exhibition sees a table of bric-à-brac bustled up in the corner, Hollywood cut-outs and movie-set memorabilia crowding over each other on risen wooden plinths. A sense of clumsiness and muddle becomes apparent in the space; objects are no longer arranged as collections, but rather gathered together to create a nonsensical mess. And not just here, but throughout the exhibition a pattern is lost as to what exactly makes a collection a collection.

There are however saving aspects to the show. For one, Andy Warhol’s collection comes as a visual delight with his quirky, cute cookie jars paired together as couples in a vast white cabinet. Edmund de Waal’s Hare with the Amber Eyes sits handsomely amongst the rest of his intricate collection of Japanese netsuke, and Pae White’s magical assortment of silk scarves hangs beautifully in continuum across the upper galleries of the Barbican. Each of these artists collections brings Magnificent Obsessions back around as an aesthetically pleasing display which validates the definition of the Wunderkammer. All in all this is an exhibition worthwhile of a visit, if not for its muddled narrative then for its wide-eyed insight into artists otherwise hidden hoardings.



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