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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!





Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector


Cookie Jars formerly in the Collection of Andy Warhol

Image Courtesy the Movado Group


Barbican Art Gallery


12 February – 25 May 2015

Magnificent Obsessions is an experience. It presents an eclectic group of fourteen international artists in dialogue with each other and the public through their collections. This is the artist as collector: to create, to covet, to hoard with or without an eye to posterity. The collections are art installations, juxtaposed with signature pieces by each artist alongside. Yet the unspoken text linking each is life’s brevity. Artists intuit this in varying degrees of humour, enlightenment or despair. If the entirety of the earth’s history was compressed into a single day, humans would appear in the final second, only. Artists understand this.  


Masks from the collection of Sir Peter Blake

Photo Hugo Glendinning


The upper floor features collections by American artist Pae White, Peter Blake, Howard Hodgkin and Arman. The latter’s ‘Home Sweet Home II’, 1960, gasmasks in a wooden box, is eerie; eye protection appears as sets of accusatory orbs. Along two walls are funerary masks dating from the Lao dynasty, China, 807 – 1125. The mask proliferates in other artists’ collections too.   


ARMAN, Arman, Home Sweet Home II (Arman Studio)


The restraint of Arman is thrown into relief by the patterning of Pae White’s collection of Vera Neuman, 1950s – 1980s: a ‘playful mix of the unorthodox kitsch, describing the everyday and the discarded.’ Scarves, bed sheets, towels are hung in a series of diagonals. The vibrancy and colours dazzle, with Vera’s singular signature a stand-out feature. Suspended over the upper floor is White’s ‘Cloud Clusters’, 2005, a mesh of coloured wires in geometric frames, dynamic against the florid Neuman backdrop. Neuman’s designs were shown off by Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly, but White remembers them for women like her mother and grandmother.


PAE WHITE. Scarves designed by Vera Neuman.

Photo Justin Piperger


If Arman is about representation and White about energy then Peter Blake’s bric-a-brac offers a crazy riotous feast as the collector gone mad: ‘every surface in his studio is busy.’ He collects street signs, Punch and Judy puppets, elephants and masks. He lives and works with stuff. ‘Kamikaze’, a signature piece from 1965, features wrestling, World W II motifs, toys, comics and the mask.  

Damien Hirst, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Dr Lakra occupy the lower level. In many ways this resembles a museum with its vitrines detailing exhibits in Victorian taxidermy, medical instruments, fossils and the exquisitely detailed pictures of Jacques D’Agoty, c1765. In one a woman looks over her shoulder as if being unzipped casually from a dress, to expose taut muscle groups which power the back.

Dr Lakra, tattooist, seeks an ‘active relationship with material he collects.’ The wall of album covers is lurid, sleazy, psychedelic, yet compelling; a ‘bank of grotesque, macabre and bizarre imagery.’ ‘Frente Al Espejo’, 2003, ink and paint on vintage magazine. ‘Mosquitos’, 2003, and ‘Punos’ (Punch) 2003, are intricate, clever compositions picked out as if by the tattooist’s needle.


DR LAKRA. Album covers fromthe collection of Dr Lakra




DR LAKRA. Frente al Espejo (The Mirror)


The two most frequent words described in Magnificent Obsessions are: ‘Americana’ and ‘Kitsch.’ Yet each exhibit questions high or low culture, the art of collecting, and after death, its value for posterity. The collections will be valuable because of the artist; the intrinsic value of each object is something different. Some artists, like Damien Hirst, are prepared for this. His museum, Pangolin, opens in 2015. Others, like Jim Shaw see themselves as ‘the curator or collector’ for their life time, only.

There are singular surprises: Edmund de Waal’s white china glaze with its gilding, 2011, suggests fault lines or damaged goods. The tiny, delicate ‘Rat on a Hank of Rope’, 1820, made from ivory and buffalo horn, is from a childhood collection. Damien Hirst’s entomological Lost Kingdom, 2012; Sugimoto’s ‘The Hanging’, 1994; or Andy Warhol’s cookie jars, in size and segregation, appearing like Egyptian Canopic jars. There is much to satisfy and enjoy.


EDMUND DE WAAL. Netsuke from the collection of de Waal.

Photo Justin Piperger, 2014


Magnificent Obsessions offers some intriguing cross-overs: Peter Blake’s elephant collection is a direct inspiration from Howard Hodgkin’s 18th century Mughal paintings; Walter Potter’s Museum of curiosities fascinates Peter Blake and Damien Hirst. At times the exhibits resemble the Pitt Rivers Museum for eclecticism and eccentricity: it’s never dull or boring. ‘Ultimately they all bear the imprint of someone else’s desire to immortalise them,’ says Hirst, speaking about his own collection.  This sums up perfectly Magnificent Obsessions.


DAMIEN HIRST. Last Kingdom, 2012


DAMIEN HIRST. Skulls display
Murderme collection



Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS
Tickets: Standard: £12
Concessions: £10
Student rate: £8
13-17 yrs: £8
Young Barbican: £5
Art Fund members: £8
Under 12s: free

Membership Plus: 

Unlimited free entry + guest


Unlimited free entry 
Sat – Wed 10.00am – 6.00pm, Thur – Fri 10.00am – 9.00pm

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