'Things' Ain't What They Used To Be | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews
'Things' Ain't What They Used To Be
The public works for free. That is the founding principal of modern broadcasting culture. It phones radio stations with its air-filling thoughts on this and that. It monopolises Saturday nights on primetime in singing and dancing and plate-spinning. Until recently, it would sit in a house for weeks on end while we (in decreasing numbers) watched. But the public as museum curators? That’s a new one.
Or almost new. The undisputed radio triumph of the year has been Radio 4’s collaboration with the British Museum, A History of the World in 100 Objects. To leaven what might be perceived as intellectual elitism, Radio 4 has been running a parallel series in which listeners can nominate their own possessions as objects of historical value. The best get on the radio. But you can go to the programme website and simply add your own object. Recent additions include a Co-Op savers book, a plastic Christmas tree and a commemorative Newport RFC lighter.
Whether the virtual museum as stocked by the public is just one big car boot sale of memorabilia will be tested anew at the Wellcome Collection. They are asking the public to loan or even donate possessions to add to Henry Wellcome’s collection of a million-and-a-half artefacts. They will be displayed in an exhibition called Things, which is the brainchild of the artist Keith Wilson. Between 12 and 19 October, he is asking people to bring along any object at all, of either considerable or minimal value, whereupon it will be catalogued, photographed, labelled and then displayed on metal shelving, compartmentalised according to days of the week. If you happen to bring something along on a Sunday it will end up in one of the museum's display cabinets. You are then invited to take them away again between 20 and 22 October, thus creating an organic shifting collection. Just don’t make your object any larger than your own head: that’s all that is asked.
"Like most people I am fascinated by other people's things", says Wilson, "and find it difficult to throw anything away. This event is an opportunity to explore that fascination by setting up a collection which is immediately on open display. Members of the public will come with their stories, which are there to be contested, not least by the objects themselves. At each step of their procession through the exhibition the objects might be reconsidered. It is a flirtation with a potentially endless number of other stories that might exist out there, anchored in the reality of the thing itself."
But never mind what Wilson says. He's only the co-curator. If you take along an object, you will be one too. Working for free, naturally.
- Things at the Wellcome Collection from 12 to 22 October
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Visual arts
Will the house renovators win? Or is it the Turner Prize that needs a makeover?
Where does freedom lie? Beautiful films that suggest ways to escape the humdrum life
The Chinese activist is more powerful as a symbol of dissidence than as an artist
The boundaries of Pop art redrawn in a compelling global account
Dazzling shades of grey: virtuoso drawings explore a largely forgotten art
The lives of artists, confessional poetry, and a cold bath with John Updike
Luc Tuymans brings an artist's eye to a survey of two generations of Belgian artists
Panorama of Pop art from Alastair Sooke ahead of the Tate Modern show
The distinguished writer and illustrator talks compensatory learning and the lure of Atlantic liners
The sculptor talks about his fascination with Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace and about the big ideas that inform his work
From a biography of Rimbaud to Annie Proulx's collage-like prose, we delve into the celebrated illustrator's literary tastes and habits
A forgotten photographer of the northern slums is rediscovered