appropriation, copy, reinterpretation, plagiary, remix, reproduction
accumulation, archive, wunderkammer, database, cabinet of curiosities, encyclopedia
disclosure, reprint, multiplication, republishing, replication, fac-simile
destruction, deletion, burning, damage, programmed obsolescence, hidden
Everything said from the angle of a real collector is whimsical.
— Walter Benjamin
Do you masturbate to your collection?
No. Almost never.
No. Even if the collection is erotic for me on some level, I don’t collect things because they turn me on. I probably would not buy most of these pictures if I didn’t find the men in them attractive, but it doesn’t become a masturbatory focus.
— Vince Aletti interviewed by Adam Baran for BUTT #26
Curiosity is a vice that has been stigmatised in turn by Christianity, by philosophy, and even by a certain conception of science. Curiosity, futility. The word, however, pleases me.
— Michel Foucault
Frans Francken II, Kunst- und Raritätenkammer, 1636, detail
Queer is fluid.*
The last decade, an increasing number of institutions including among others the Museum of London, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven address systematically issues related to the application of queer perspectives to the experience of the museum space, the display of art as well as the nature and definition of collecting.
The ongoing exhibition Expanded Visions: Fifty Years of Collecting (March - May, 2017) at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art showcases a comprehensive overview of its co-founders’ collection. Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman have searched for images of queerness in art history since 1969 accumulating more than 30,000 objects and artworks.
They started collecting and exhibiting art in their SoHo loft with the idea to provide an outlet for living gay artists. Moreover, they managed to preserve a unique corpus of works that would have otherwise been lost forever during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, when the families of the dying artists and collectors started to throw away or destroy their belongings.
According to the writer Kevin Clarke, Leslie has the biggest phallus-related collection in the world whereas the couple’s efforts to foster queer artistic practice would lead to the formation of a non-profit foundation, a huge archive that became the first major LGBTQ art museum based in New York.
Peter Hujar, Paul Thek on Zebra, 1965, Leslie-Lohman Museum Collection.
From The Art of Looking: The Life and Treasures of Collector Charles Leslie (2014) by Kevin Clarke. In the centre: Marion Pinto, Portrait of Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman, 1974.
If you see a fair form, chase it
And if possible embrace it,
Be it a girl or boy.
Don't be bashful: be brash, be fresh.
Life is short, so enjoy
Whatever contact your flesh
May at the moment crave:
There's no sex life in the grave.
The Collectors, curated by Elmgreen & Dragset
The Nordic and Danish Pavilions, 53rd Biennale di Venezia, 2009
In March 2017, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles announced that it had received an important donation of twenty two artworks from the collectors Alan Hergott and Curt Shepard. This significant gift represented "unconditional love" as the museum director Philippe Vergne claimed, including paintings and photographs that explore gender issues.
For almost thirty years, the Los Angeles-based couple has been building a collection of both established and emerging contemporary art focusing on men and male identity. Their latest donation included works by Gilbert & George, Matthew Barney, Rineke Dijkstra and Catherine Opie among others, expanding the museum’s permanent collection towards the complex social and political history of the representation of men in queer culture. (MOCA has collaborated with Hergott and Shepard since the 1980s having received roughly forty artworks from their collection).
Collecting was always a mutual passion for both. The fact that they were an openly gay couple in the community of Hollywood since the very beginning of their relationship had influenced the way in which they collected artworks. More than an accumulation of gay-related pieces, their collection is charged with the notion of coupling. This is translated broadly to works that featured pairings: diptychs and installations that juxtaposed one image or object with another.
The collection which is mainly housed in the collectors' residence, designed by Michael Maltzan in the late 1990s, circulates also out of their home. The recent exhibition "HE: The Hergott Shepard Photography Collection" at UMMA in 2015, addressed themes related to masculinities and the construction of identity.
Jeff Wall, Boxing, 2011, color photograph
Gilbert & George, Burning Sky World, 1989, mixed media
Artists collecting is nothing unusual. Indeed, accumulation becomes a regular part or starting point of the creative process. The exhibition Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector at the Barbican in 2015 presented the private collections of post-war and contemporary artists including memorabilia, curiosities, artefacts and specimens among others. Reflecting personal obsessions, their acquisitions are often made in tandem with their own work and on a visual basis while there are many variations on the dynamics concerning their storage, selection process and circulation.
Hanne Darboven's studio in Hamburg (Photo by Felix Krebs, Hanne Darboven Foundation)
Installation view: Danh Vo (Martin Wong Collection), I M U U R 2, 2013 (Photo by Peter MacDiarmid)
As to why I collect […] collecting for me is an escape into fantasy. The furniture I collect relates to a certain kind of passion I feel within myself […] it has for me an amorous, masculine quality that I don’t find in other furniture. It is as exciting for me as early photographs or the Lucifer bronzes I collect […] To have something that’s beautiful somehow gives me a feeling that approaches immortality. It’s very similar to the act of creating.
Robert Mapplethorpe in a cross-section of ‘people who collect Art and Craft furniture’ including Dan Flavin, Beth and David Cathers, Marcia and Bill Goodman, and Joan and Dane Wells. (Carol Lorraine Bohdan and Todd Mitchell Volpe in “Collecting Arts & Crafts,” Nineteenth Century, Vol. 4, No. 3, Autumn 1978)
Bill Aller, Robert Mapplethorpe at home, from ‘Living with Mission Furniture on the East and West Coasts’ in New York Times, 10 December 1981
Polaroid test shot of the interior of Mapplethorpe’s West 23rd Street loft (glass, ceramics and photographs), taken for House & Garden, June 1988
Maria Karavia, Eikastika Iolas (ERT), 1982, 27 min
MR: But don’t you love money?
AI: Money, what’s that? I don’t know … Money! But of course, I need lots of it, lots, but …
MR: Iolas, dance, painting, dollars, all these things worthy for you to fight your anxiety.
AI: Anxiety, anxiety, who speaks of anxiety? I don’t have anxiety. What is anxiety?
Interview of Alexandre Iolas to Maurice Rheims, Paris Vogue, August 1965.
At the time I was doing the bronze chair, Iolas was very present in my studio, in Paris. It was after my first show with him. I was painting big white canvases of chairs, and he with Niki de Saint Phalle pushed me to make one three-dimensional. When it was finished, Iolas took it to heart and considered it his baby, so he was adamant that it should be in shimmering gold.
Marina Karella, 2014 in Alexander The Great: The Iolas Gallery, 1955-1987, Paul Kasmin Gallery, 2014.
Horst P. Horst / Conde Nast in Vogue, 1982.
Right: Marina Karella, The Gold Cloth, 1974, bronze.
Andreas Angelidakis, A Short Visit, series of photographs, 2008.