The art of collecting: key and meaning

Published on : 14 December 20203 min reading time

Collecting is a basic and very ancient human instinct, proper, in general, to organized, careful and somewhat obsessive people; so that, often, a collection can turn into a passion of a lifetime, with all that it can entail.

Why collect?

Collecting is an essential gesture in the history of art, but it is also a passion that everyone may have felt in their childhood. Collecting is about the relationship between the work of art and society, between artists and their sponsors or buyers, between private amateurs and the public. According to Leroi Gourhan, the first attestations of this practice date back to Prehistory: in Arcy-sur-Cure, in the Yonne, in the Upper Paleolithic, a series of objects were collected and amassed for their curious aspect: pyrite blocks, fossil shells, quartz crystals. Why collect? Is the purpose and pleasure of collecting the same for a Roman emperor, a king of France or a contemporary business leader? Are they collecting for themselves alone or for an audience, and which audience? By comparing present and past situations, but also by giving a voice to today’s collectors, we will try to understand how private passions and heritage are articulated, how private and public collections are intertwined, and the different modes of patronage.

Bringing the world together at home

The balance between what you show and what you hide is essential to any collection. Collecting also means staging objects to tell a story, to tell the story. The presentation of paintings, until the 20th century, by national “schools”, the successive classifications of extra-European arts, from ethnography to “primitive arts”, have made visible a history of humanity whose validity must be questioned. The collection can also propose to describe the world: in the 16th and 17th centuries, the porous frontiers between science and the arts made works of art, exhibited in cabinets of curiosities or rooms of wonders, which today inspire artists. The quest for the extraordinary is, moreover, an essential motivation for the collector.

Artists collectors

The Festival will evoke unusual or unexpected collections such as collections of buildings, collections of immaterial works etc. While the theme will explore the relationships between artists and their collectors, it will also invite the visitor to look the other way around and show that artists themselves are often collectors. From Michelangelo’s antiques to Dubuffet’s works of art brut, these collections nourish and illuminate their own creation. So much so that the gesture of collecting can be the very principle of a work, like Boltanski’s, which, by wrenching everyday objects from their primary function and accumulating them, changes the viewer’s view of it. When the collection itself becomes a work of art, it is a primary gesture of the child that is rediscovered.

Psychology of the collector
Main tips for beginners to help them develop their collections

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