The D.C. Docent

When Is It A Collection, When Is It Stuff?

I recently had the opportunity to  visit the home of some local DC art collectors—pitched as a viewing of “their eclectic collection of contemporary art.” True to the description, it was eclectic. In fact, it was more than eclectic, it was an overwhelming display of everything from Pez dispensers to commemorative towels to roadside ceramics to Tom Green prints to William Christenberry photographs. It seemed as if every square inch of floor and wall space was taken up by items large and small; memorabilia, everyday objects, detritus and art—all mashed up together.

As I walked through four stories of work and objects that felt like an assault on the senses versus an opportunity for contemplation, I found myself thinking, what is the difference between a collection and a collection of stuff? Does it matter? What does presentation say about the “collection.” Was the house taken as a whole, an installation? Did the owners intend to obscure the lines between stuff and art? It was obvious that they loved their art, but they also loved their stuff. And the stuff seemed to overwhelm the art. Was that that the point? Was it meant to be a treasure hunt?

I didn’t ask them any of these questions, I just got through and out of the house as quickly as possible. Not my style. But I’m still thinking about it, so maybe that was the point?