From Private to Public: Objects in Transition

Activity: Talk or presentation / Performance / SpeechesTalk or presentation - at conferenceProfessional


The characteristics specific to objects in private contemporary art collections are inherently linked to a collection’s biography. The meaning and effect of the objects in it can change and are constituted not only by the object’s physical state, but also by the social, cultural and historical context (Kopytoff 1986, van de Vall et al. 2011). Aspects such as how artworks were acquired, what constitutes the collectors’ attachment to them, the relationships private collectors are able to build up with artists, and the object’s history within the collection, may all play a role. Artworks can attain something akin to site-specificity, and the intimacy allows for a different experience of the works than would be possible in a museum context (Stourton 2007, p. 19).
By following the development of the Eyck collection, which was recently bought by the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, I want to make clear that different biographies can be written about one and the same collection, depending on whose perspective prevails. Acknowledging this allows to follow the trajectory (Latour and Lowe 2008) of the collection. This is important, as it elucidates how the boundary between public and private is constantly shifting and contested. It provides an understanding of the co-existence of various expectations and possible futures of object and collection, without valuing one over the other.

Kopytoff, I. (1986). The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process. In Appadurai, A. (Ed) The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 64.
Stourton, J. (2007). Great Collectors of Our Time: Art Collecting since 1945. China: Scala Publishers Ltd.
Vall van de, R., Hölling, H., Scholte, T., Stigter, S. (2011). Reflections on a Biographical Approach to Contemporary Art. Proceedings of ICOM-CC 16th Triennial Conference. WG Theory and History in Conservation, Lisbon 2011. 1-7.
Latour, B., Lowe, A. (2008). The migration of the aura, or how to explore the original through its facsimiles. In Bartscherer, T., Coover, R. (Eds.). Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 275–297.
Period25 Jun 2018
Event titleNACCA summer symposium
Event typeSymposium
LocationKöln, Germany, North Rhine-WestphaliaShow on map