We are all collectors, to some degree, obsessively keeping and arranging the objects of our past and present. Letters, images, and trinkets pile up, in an effort to capture certain memories and realities. Our personal archives may be sparser today now that communications are digital and lives are recorded online, but the impulse to hold on is still there.
The desire to collect and organize, to remember and resurface, is at the heart of the New Museum
’s stunning exhibition “The Keeper
.” A dazzling array of objects put together by various artists, authors, historians, and hoarders (once again, distinctions by a matter of degree) have themselves been assembled by curator Massimiliano Gioni and his team. Densely packed across three floors and the lobby, the exhibition of over 4,000 things
—the most in the museum’s history—tells “the stories of various individuals through the objects they chose to safeguard,” as Gioni writes in the catalogue. But objects are uncertain narrators, and the stories they tell multiply and shift.
Why do we keep some objects and discard others? Unlike an archive—which seeks to be an undiscerning vacuum of content—the collections in “The Keeper” are wholly determined by their makers. The Brazilian artist-collector Arthur Bispo do Rosário began to accumulate pieces after having visions of angels who asked him to assemble objects worthy of redemption on judgement day. In response, the former ensign weaved material into model ships, scrawled prophesies across fabric, and neatly created arrangements of found objects like spoons and plastic dolls—all while in the mental asylum to which he was committed in 1938.