When I was at art school many years ago, I was advised by , 'if you want to improve your practice as an artist or designer, collect ephemera, collect resources and references for your work' and so I have. Not in an organised way as an archivist or museum collector might, but scattered around my home and studio a constant source of provocation and inspiration - the work of others around me.
The subject of this exhibition appealed to me. I went to see it at the Barbican at the beginning of the year. The Barbican is a difficult space and it looked rather as though someone had set up car boot stalls in the bays of a multi-storey car park. But I enjoyed the exhibition there and was curious to see how it would transfer to the very different spaces of the Sainsbury Centre. I also found the concept interesting - this idea of linking the artists' own practice with the items that inspired them enough to create a collection, or even count as an obsession
Pae White for example has a massive collection of scarves and textiles designed by Vera Neumann - although creating an impressive display at the bottom of the stairs in the gallery, only a portion of the whole collection are used - but what an array of colour and design greets you - an inspiration to kick off with. Pae's own work, a three-dimensional piece constructed of brightly coloured wire is hanging in the light well nearby and can be viewed from above and below. Not knowing Pae and her work, I googled her and came across this quote on Wikipedia.
Of the concept behind her work, White has said:
"For the last several years, my practice has focused on an exploration of the neglected, the forgotten, the spaces between things, even the things between things. I am equally drawn to the temporary, the fleeting, to the ephemera of everyday life. My work has attempted to subvert the viewer's expected relationship to an everyday object, nudging them off balance, encouraging a deeper look.” 
So ephemera again, and it is all around us, enabling even the most modestly-funded individuals the opportunity to collect something that stirs them. And this is what I like about this exhibition - that it touches people at all levels of society and celebrates the idea of becoming obsessive about one particular kind of item - there is often a fine line between how one is viewed - a collector (positive) and a hoarder (negative).
And what a strange variety of things people choose (or maybe the items chose them?). Martin Parr collects 20th century British postcards - hundreds displayed together offer a history of British culture and you can kind of understand how that collection started. But how about his collection of tins featuring Soviet space dogs? Whoever even knew that so many tins depicting the poor canines who were shot off into space and celebrated in their mixed fates? But there they are, in one cabinet, together.
And so it goes on down the corridor to the main gallery space including Andy Warhol's collection of kitsch cookie jars - not exactly a space-saving collection but embued with domesticity and the kitchen as is much of Warhol's work including the soup can on display and the portrait of Pom, Lady Adeane's dog, painted by Warhol in 1976. Pom has a strong local (Norfolk) connection as Lady Adeane was the mother of Henry Cator who was at the exhibition opening – the Cators have a long history of supporting the arts in Norfolk.
In the main gallery, the space has been cleverly divided to move you between the collections of bizarre taxidermy, glass eyeballs, explicit anatomical drawings, tiny ivory carvings, elephants and railway memorabilia. Howard Hodgkins, Edmund de Waal, Peter Blake, Sol Lewitt - I will leave you to pair them up! I suspect you will never guess who collects what.
But perhaps the favourite for many people is the wall of brightly coloured and glittering butterflies and insects by Damien Hirst - it is stunning seen at close quarters, as is the montage display of 24 tiny tropical birds in a glass dome nearby, Hirst's collection.
It is clear that you could spend hours at this exhibition, poring over the cabinets of collections and being impressed by the proximity of well-known artworks. There is also an imaginative events programme that runs alongside the exhibition - but most importantly, and invitation to add a photo of your own collection to the exhibition by sending a photo and 50 words via the Sainsbury Centre website (www.scva.ac.uk). You can also book via the site - don't be put off by the time slots as that is just the way the software works - or just turn up as the venue is very spacious. Just allow yourself enough time to be able to absorb the collections and to appreciate the contemporary artworks
There are also late nights on Fridays when the Sainsbury Centre is open till 9pm so no excuse not to get there. I would particularly recommend the Live Review on Thursday 24 September in the Elizabeth Fry Lecture Theatre with Bruce Lacey, Rob Hillier and Lynda Morris - I can imagine a very lively and inspirational evening there with such a panel of personalities!
Author Marion Catlin
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