Contemporary Art and the Act of Collecting

Contemporary Art and the Act of Collecting

The creation of a contemporary work of art is often related to the way in which it shall be collected within a public or private framework. This is particularly relevant to contemporary artistic practice, and a deep self-awareness of this is often reflected within the artist’s own work. As such, it is hardly surprising that many contemporary artists choose to explore the act of collecting, by engaging with the issues of choice, memory and authenticity it involves.
By taking on the role of collector and curator, the artist explores what it truly means to attribute meaning to a particular selection of objects. The work of French artist Bertille Bak, born in 1983, demonstrates her involvement as an artist in her country’s community and territorial history. With the work Untitled (2009), she explores the issue of collective memory by using doors taken from old houses in a town in Northern France which are assembled into a book-like structure, still attached to their former padlocks. This display becomes a way of creating an open document of memories linked to a place and a past: the doors take on new interpretations collected together, both perpetuating their history and detached from their original context.

Bertille Bak, Untitled, 2009, installation

Haris Epaminonda (Cyprus, 1980), uses a wide range of techniques and media in her work involving the appropriation of found and used objects into new contexts. Her installation Untitled #14, from 2012, consists in the juxtaposition of a found picture with antique Chinese bowl and vase in a carefully considered display, complete with frame, plinth and vitrine. This process refers to the tradition of the cabinets of curiosity filled with diverse found or rare artifacts that were at the origin of private collections. Here, the relation between the objects is left unexplained but is given legitimacy through an ‘official’ method of display, creating a small world suspended in time which is more about a state of mind than the objects themselves.

Haris Epaminonda (b. 1980, Cyprus), Untitled #14, 2012, mixed media

In a different way, documentation céline duval, born in France in 1974, makes the idea of collection and documentation an essential part of her entire practice (as the very name the artist chose for herself suggests). Collecting, restoring and documenting amateur photography from press cuttings and postcards before displaying them classified by genre gives them an elevated meaning beyond their former anonymous status. Most importantly, they allow the artist-documenter to explore how photography, society and our own representation of it has evolved, allowing her to shine a critical light on social and political issues. Ultimately, it is this intention which gives the collection its true visual power.


documentation céline duval, Vu! Six-Fours la plage, 2015, photograph

Through collecting, the original context and meaning of objects is reinterpreted to become a statement about the way in which we see the world and interpret it. The way in which collecting is associated to memory, narrative and individuality turns the act into a creative pursuit both for the contemporary artist and for the collector.

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