What do you collect?
Our new exhibition Living with art: Picasso to Celmins, a British Museum touring exhibition, features a selection of prints and drawings that were collected by film critic and writer Alexander Walker (1930–2003).
In this short blog post, artist and art teacher Vita Ryan explores the idea of collecting, and shares her personal joy in finding, organising and displaying her own unusual collection.
Alexander Walker's collection
Alexander Walker developed his art collection over his lifetime. He collected over 211 works of art, and was especially interested in works that signified a change in an artist's process or approach to their work.
He displayed his collection on every surface and every inch of available space in his London flat - even in the bathroom and kitchen! When Walker died he bequeathed his collection to the British Museum to share the pleasure and joy that he got from his art with the public. Walker's love of collecting inspired me to think about collections.
So what is a collection?
A collection in a group of items gathered together over time. The items or objects in a collection usually have a connection to each other, such as the colour, shape, size, function, theme or place of origin. Let's look at some of the different ways people collect objects; this might inspire you to develop your own collection.
Collecting objects to use
Alexander Walker collected art to display and look at, but people also collect objects to use. For example, a craftsperson, such as a woodcarver, collects their chisels over time. They will collect different chisels for different functions. Some might be secondhand, some might be new. As the craftsperson develops their skills they collect more specialised tools and develop their collection.
Collecting for fun
People also collect for fun or out of a curiosity for unusual things. A number of years ago, I noticed a lost glove on the street and I photographed it. Since then, whenever I see a lost or lone glove I photograph it. Now, I have a collection of photographs of gloves.
I love to imagine stories about each glove. Who was the person who lost it? Where were they the moment they realised their glove was gone?
The gloves are categorised as the same object, but they all look different. Some are mittens, some are gloves; some are wool, some are leather, and so on.
When you find what you love to collect, you will discover there are almost always other people who love to collect similar things. I found other people who photograph gloves on a website called Things Organised Neatly. Here you will see lots of different collections organised and displayed in lots of different ways.
Displaying your collection
How you display or organise your collection can also be fun. You could display the objects according to their colour, size, or shape. Or, group them by theme. Or, organise them in chronological order – based on when the items were made or when they joined your collection. You could hang them on your walls, like Alexander Walker, or you could photograph and present them on your Instagram.
Artists who collect
Sometimes, artists collect objects as part of their art practice. Steven Maybury, an Irish contemporary artist, collects combs that he finds on the street. He then uses these combs to create beautiful line drawings, and he often displays the combs alongside the drawings.
James Kirwan, another contemporary Irish artist, collects driftwood on the beach. He has used this wood to create frames for his paintings.
Start your own collection
- Think about your hobbies and what interests you. Is there a way you could create a collection based on something you like?
- How might you organise your collection? By colour, shape, function, theme, or age?
- How will you display your collect to share it with others?
Visit the exhibition
Living with art: Picasso to Celmins, A British Museum touring exhibition is on view until 7 June 2021. Free entry, but you must book a ticket in advance. Book your free general admission ticket now
Living with art: Picasso to Celmins, A British Museum touring exhibition
10 May – 7 June 2021
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