On Wednesday, the New Museum debuted, The Keeper, an exhibition dedicated to artist-collectors and quirky collections of all sorts. Carefully curated items fill the first four floors of the museum, featuring thousands of obscure objects, materials, photos and paintings; presented with obsessive aplomb.
Head curator Massimliano Gioni described the exhibit as a giant collaborative project that pays tribute to collectors and challenges the idea of ownership and value. “We ask what it means to hold on to something and what it means to lose something or someone,” said Gioni. “We ask what it means to care for an image and how and why we project emotions on certain objects.”
Among the varied collections are a series of famed novelist Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly illustrations/classifications, 126 mixed-medium model houses discarded by Austrian insurance clerk Peter Fritz, and ancient artifacts from the National Museum of Beirut that survived a fire during the Lebanese Civil War.
Also featured in the collection is artist-collector Ydessa Hendeles’ Partners (The Teddy Project). Showcased as the centerpiece of the exhibit, Partners is an installation of 3,000 family-album photographs of people and their teddy bears. Some of the (now) antique teddy bears are on view, enclosed in glass cases alongside an image of the original owner.
The Keeper pays tribute to the individuals who were motivated to create and compulsively safeguard both fascinating and mundane objects. Of course, when deciding how to display collections, the curators themselves often take on the role of the artist. Viewed as an overwhelming whole, the exhibition explores today’s ongoing dialogue around the questions of “outsider art” — “What is art?” and “What defines someone as an artist?”
The Keeper is on view through September 25th.