Wednesday, 29 September 2010

What goes on Inside a Collector's Home?


Dorothy King has posted on her blog a photo she found in Vogue of the interior of the home of Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, and there on the shelves in the living room is Marc Anthony's collection of antiquities, mostly single Greek pots it seems. The picture is not very detailed, but we can see on the shelves in an alcove (blocked window?) some 16 complete (or maybe reconstructed) pots, some phials (glass?) and figurines (?).

Here we see a 'candid' shot of an antiquity collector's collection in the domestic setting that is its natural environment. What conclusions can we draw from this?

My first thought is of course where did these objects come from? What criteria were applied during their acquisition? What documentation of collecting history was collected with them, and where is this documentation now? Are the objects labelled in any manner which would allow an executor to associate objects with documentation kept elsewhere in the house?

My second immediate thought on looking at this photo concerns the curation aspects. This is not a good way to display fragile items like this. They are shown poised on shallow shelves in the corner of the room, tucked away behind a sofa and some kind of display stand, probably containing another "cultchur'l" object. Anyone squeezing past (for example vacuuming behind the sofa) or just wanting to get closer to admire or study them would endanger these objects being knocked off the shelf onto the (bare wooden) floor below. The objects are not protected from dust or any other airborne pollutants. This is important because of course one of the most frequent collectors' mantras is that by taking them into their homes collectors are looking after the objects (they omit the other component- information associated with them) better than if they were "shut away in a dusty museum storeroom". Although the Anthony/Lopez home does not look at all like the sort of place children would be noisily playing, cats running about, a budgie let out of its cage, some collectors probably do live in such places like the rest of us normal folk. Let's have the objects people keep at home properly protected from mishap, deterioration and damage by responsible collectors (collectors taking responsibility for the objects they look after).

The next question, and one I think we should all be asking about why people collect, is what does this collector "do' with these artefacts? The fact that they are on open shelves with no intervening glass might suggest that the collector wants to have (or wants his his guests to have) an uninterrupted view of the items. That the important factor is the visual effect. Also it allows them to be taken off the shelf for fondling and show-and-tell to impress guests.

Another collectors' mantra is that by collecting unprovenanced artefacts they are in some way "honouring" the ancient culture, and learning about it. Some even go so far as to say they are studying these cultures and contributing to our knowledge of these cultures. Can we see any evidence of that here? This is just a loose collection of different types of objects, which if we could see closer I suspect will also turn out to be from different regions and dates. There is no duplication of form, so perhaps the collector has adopted a "one of each" approach, to get a "representative sample" of several cultures or something like that (he's a few pot types missing, I cannot see any amphorae or cooking pots). So he's not attempting to get a study collection together of a particular type of object or art style.

It looks to me as if these items have been collected together not so much as a study collection (where broken bits would be just as useful) but as decoration. Decorative "cultcher'l" geegaws. As for studying the artefacts, with the exception of the decorative one open on the stand by the pots, we note not a single book can be seen here. Perhaps Mrs Lopez banned books from the living room and they are in another room of the house, but then why is the study collection in the living room if the tools for its study are in another room?

In what kind of study of these artefacts is Marc Anthony involved, if any? How many collectors of ancient Greek geegaws, pots, figurines, glass, pottery, coins and jewellery actually do study them any more than looking in books and catalogues to see who has got one similar to theirs and what else would "look nice" on their shelves (and how much they cost)? How many of them actually produce any publications at all of what they hoard in their homes? When there was a gathering of public submissions about a bilateral agreement with Greece over illegal antiquity exports, some nine hundred collectors wrote to object, many of them claiming this would prevent their "studies" on such material. How many of them have ever written anything at all on the results of any research they have done with the aid of the objects they hold, and what kind of research is actually involved? Could the ACCG produce a bibliography of contributions to knowledge made by their members that would contain the names of even thirty percent of the people who are visible on the US government website as having objected to the US/Greek MOU on these grounds? I doubt it, I really do.

By the way, I noted from one of the online versions of the article that Ms Lopez had placed a fur stole on the coat stand in the hall before the Vogue photographer arrived, it seems like they are both making a statement about their lifestyle and attitudes to issues which others consider important. They employed an interior decorator whose other projects have included such items as pairs of elephant tusks "tastefully" mounted. Hmmm.

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