Since I have started to write this blog, I have visited many spaces that are filled with curious objects, and are typified by an ultimate use of capacity. This approach to display has definite roots in Renaissance Europe’s ‘cabinets of curiosities’, where collections of unusual/uncategorised objects were displayed in vast quantities, in order to inspire awe and wonder. Many of the spaces that I have visited, such as Sir John Soane’s Museum and The Grant Collection, are actual products of this age. While others, such as Hastings Fisherman’s Museum and The Grange Museum, take inspiration from this style of display, but their cluttered exhibits are actually due to limitations in capacity. I love these ‘maximal’ settings and the way that they force me to really scrutinise the museum environment; a process that is unusual to experience in a fast-paced world. To recently find a contemporary museum space, which came into existence through a similar appreciation, was consequently an exciting discovery.
The Museum of Curiosity opened in November 2012 and is the creation of curator, and collector, Mike Snelle. In many online reviews, Snelle is quoted as describing the museum as being filled with ‘weird sh*t’, which it essentially is! Rows of real teeth; animal skeletons; old anatomy teaching resources; dead butterflies and crucifixes all fill a tiny basement room at Pertwee Anderson and Gold Gallery. The centrepiece in this weird collection is an amazing installation, which comprises of sculpted forms and tiny drawers filled with descriptions of real dreams. The overall atmosphere, made stronger by the bare bulb lighting, reminded me of an old flea market or an attic space.
This atmosphere seems very deliberate. When the museum first opened, it was spread across two floors, and included the work of several artists. Through examination of these artists’ work (Swoon, Butch Anthony, Oskar Rink, Giles Walker, Delaney Martin, Taylor Shepherd, Jessica Harrison, Tessa Farmer and Nancy Fouts), it soon becomes clear that they share Snelle’s passion for a ‘macabre’ or ‘nostalgic’ aesthetic.
For me, there is a lot more to this place than a lot of ‘weird sh*t’. Its existence and its style actually raise some very interesting questions:
- Why is this ‘Wunderkammer’ approach so popular?
- When did it become fashionable to refer to a type of curation that was once deemed to be archaic, and is tainted by terrible acts of plunder during an age of Empire?
- Why deliberately display so many objects that directly, or indirectly, refer to death/anatomy?
Such questions are not easily answered in a short blog post, but a brief consideration can be made. An initial answer that springs to mind, in relation to the first question, is linked simply to the passage of time. Perhaps this process alone has enabled artists and curators to explore what was once viewed as fusty or old-fashioned – even tainted. When I studied History of Art, lecturers would criticise, even laugh at, images of Sir John Soane’s Picture Room, implying that this maximal use of space was just not the ‘done thing’. So, an answer to the second question can linked to the idea of reaction; more specifically, artists defying the status quo. After all, this is how fashions in all spheres shift and change. A fascination with macabre objects is perhaps more easily linked to the original idea of cabinets of curiosities; quite simply, these objects are fascinating. This fascination has even spread to current interior design trends. Something that can be said with certainty, is that The Museum of Curiosity is an inspiring place to visit.
I would like to thank the staff at Pertwee Anderson and Gold Gallery for how welcoming they were during my visit, and Mark Snelle for creating such a thought-provoking space.