The Compulsion to Collect

To be termed a keeper—a hoarder—one typically possesses obsessive tendencies. Often associated with mania, keepers are tied to objects of their affection, unable to let go. Struck by uncanny urges to collect, to document or, in the most extreme cases, to prophesize, keepers record their feelings in tangible forms. These artifacts—beautiful and strange—hold the tumultuous histories of their owners and/or creators. The New Museum’s most recent exhibition, “The Keeper” is dedicated to the peoples and products preserved. As stated by its curators, the exhibit records the human “impulse to save both the most precious and the apparently valueless.” It presents all ephemera as bonafide artistic creations.

On view at the New Museum until the 25th of September, the exhibition sets out to document the impulses behind artistic creation. Offering a full array of intriguing, absurd and spectacular objects, “The Keeper” challenges spectators to see each object for its artistic merit. Ranging from Ydessa Hendeles Partners, an extension of The Teddy Bear Project (2002), to Shinro Ohtake’s collaged scrapbooks to Ye Jinglu’s yearly formal portrait to Henrik Olesen’s Some Gay-Lesbian Artists and/ or Artists relevant to Homo-Social Culture Born between c. 1300-1870 (2007), “The Keeper” cannot be criticized for its diversity in representation. The show bridges many mediums, exhibiting works of photography, sculpture, painting, embroidery and collage, among others.

Aptly titled, “The Keeper” is a beautifully confusing experience. At times I was rendered quiet, enraptured by the universality of an individual object. While at others I was left lost, deciphering the Magnus Opus of Henrik Olesen with little supplementary text. The exhibition labels, well wrought and exceedingly thought provoking, provided little help for casual visitors. Steeped with highbrow vocabulary and complex methodological concepts, the labels were passed over altogether by many visitors.

Even with such failings, “The Keeper” deserves widespread praise for bringing to light the compulsion of collecting. The desire to keep elements of the past exists within all of us.  Sharing this human tendency, both laymen and creatives could relate to the seemingly un-relatable collection of oddities.