We are surrounded by objects. We design them, make them, buy them, use them and then forget about them or resell them. And a remarkable number of people also seem to collect them: knives, carpet beaters, roofing tiles, pencils, even staircases. As the curators of the exhibition Finders Keepers, the editors of the design and crafts magazine MacGuffin reveal the universe of the collector, bringing together objects from dozens of collections and exploring the collectors’ strategies, the aesthetic pleasure of collecting and the hidden life of things.
Het Nieuwe Instituut
3015 CB Rotterdam
dinsdag — woensdag
11.00 — 17.00
11.00 — 21.00
vrijdag — zondag
11.00 — 17.00
Magazine and exhibition
The magazine MacGuffin – launched two years ago by Kirsten Algera and Ernst van der Hoeven – has already attracted an international following with thematic issues devoted to the bed, the window, the rope and the sink. While the design world is focussed mainly on the newest trends, the editors of MacGuffin prefer to be surprised by the casual nature of everyday objects. Their fascination with a timeless aesthetic is the key to innovative research. In this respect, the magazine seems to form a bridge between the physical and digital worlds and focuses our senses on those things that usually escape our attention and which occur largely unseen.
Over the past few months, at the invitation of Het Nieuwe Instituut, the editors of the magazine have been developing an exhibition about the phenomenon of collecting while simultaneously compiling their forthcoming issue: The Cabinet. In Finders Keepers, questions about the value, meaning, influence and specificity of collecting are related exclusively to physical objects, but in many cases the conclusions are also applicable to digital collections.
Finders Keepers aims to reveal the phenomenon of collecting and the activity of the collector before exploring the characteristics of individual collectors or their love of their objects. Furthermore, Finders Keepers employs a unique interpretation of design. MacGuffin: ‘After all, design is about more than simply designing good ‘functional’ objects. It is also about the making itself and representation, and it reflects upon all the relationships that we have on a daily basis with the things that surround us.’
By choosing the editors of MacGuffin as curators, Het Nieuwe Instituut has opted for an exhibition that is like a three-dimensional variant of the magazine. The magazine’s mentality, perspective and identity are followed as closely as possible in the exhibition, partly thanks to the fact that Sandra Kassenaar, who designs the magazine, has also provided the graphics for the exhibition; the spatial design is by Ira Koers and Roelof Mulder. They have taken the interior of the earlier exhibition Designing the Surface, designed by Monadnock, as the starting point for a transformation of various exhibition pavilions into an architectural landscape that reveals both the infinite nature of collecting and the specificity of each collection.
Finders Keepers brings together private collections of extraordinary size and specialisation. These include more than 3000 carpenter’s pencils and 150 different sorts of handcuffs. MacGuffin has tracked down collections of bottles, hubcaps, bricks, license plates, ropes and jeans from all over the world. Loans come from countries such as Japan, the United States, South Africa and England. The British collector Charles Brooking is represented by a tiny part of his megalomaniac collection of building components. For Finders Keepers he is lending 30 complete flights of stairs, most of which he has salvaged from buildings due for demolition. Brooking and several other collectors are interviewed in a series of video portraits, showing the collections in their habitat.
The exhibition also features collections assembled by artists and designers, such as fashion designer Jurgen Lehl’s spoon collection and art dealer and curator Seth Siegelaub’s headdress collection. In addition, independent satellite presentations explore certain types of collections in greater depth, such as the orphaned collection, the immaterial collection and the infinite collection. These include the collection of typewriters assembled by novelist Willem Frederik Hermans, which risked homelessness until Stichting Onterfd Goed found a new home for the collection in the Limerick bookshop in Ghent. Alan Lomax’s world-famous archive of field recordings illustrates the significance of the immaterial collection. He made thousands of recordings or folk music all around the world, including American blues, conserving them for posterity. One of the satellite displays presents items from the collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut, such as 867 dip pens from the archive of architect Jan Wils and a collection of mini models by Gerrit Rietveld, which he carried in cigar boxes.
Het Nieuwe Instituut as collector
As the custodian of the world’s largest architecture archive, since its establishment Het Nieuwe Instituut has explored many aspects of phenomenon of the archive. In addition to being a resource for research, the archive is also the repository for a collective memory and it provides a perspective in relation to questions concerning identity and nationality. Simultaneously, the archive also reflects notions of hierarchy and quality – what do we preserve as a society? – and makes visible that which escapes these criteria or is purposefully left out of the picture.
Because of the great social and cultural importance of the State Archive for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning, the institute has not only introduced a new portal enabling universal access to the archive’s treasures, but it has also initiated research projects and formed partnerships, including the establishment of the Jaap Bakema Study Centre in partnership with Delft University of Technology TU Delft, fellowships and research projects in the Research & Development department, projects such as 1:1 Period Rooms in partnership with the Amsterdam Museum, and various digital archive interpretations led by Annet Dekker. To coincide with the opening of Finders Keepers, an exhibition entitled Archive Interpretations in Gallery 2 will examine several of these projects in detail.
Until now, the institute had not yet explored the phenomenon of (public or private) collecting itself, the role of the collector or the darker sides of collecting. In the design and crafts magazine MacGuffin, the institute has found the ideal partner and curator for a project about the irrationality of collecting and an aesthetic that is particular to the collection itself, far beyond the (market) value of a single object.