Collecting as Art

Lately I have become interested in artists for whom collecting is central to their process. Dealing with taxonomies and systems of classification, their work is, at least in part, a critique of the activities of museums and collecting institutions or individuals. Fundamentally, these artists are exploring notions of identity through quantitative assessment. Here, identity is expressed through an ontology—a system of objects, representing a particular and unique perspective. A collection seeks to establish a framework by which to formalize, structure and express its content. Through their work, these artists critique that framework at different levels—relating to individual identity, the role of the institution, or society at large.

It seems that the need to categorize is a basic human trait. We cannot not categorize. The ontologies we create define cultures, as the result of processes by which we shape our lives. Museums fundamentally aim to document culture, and the systems of classification created within the museum context reflect those present within society. Art involved in a critique of these systems is therefore fundamentally also a critique of society at large—a particular society, that is—aiming in an almost scientific way to objectify the outcomes of those processes that manifest themselves in certain predictable or less-predictable forms.


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