If you enter the Edwardian edifice of Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow you get to experience what museum collections used to be like. The consensus of art institutes of the last century and a half has been towards strict specialisation in a particular field. By contrast in the very broad collections on display at Kelvingrove you will encounter everything from a suspended WWII Spitfire fighter plane to a lurid Dali depiction of Christ crucified, from expositions of local folk history to artefacts from ancient civilisations. As a result an inclusive cross-referencing across disparate disciplines is achieved, something that is not usually possible in normative museum collections. The enjoyment of visiting such a collection comes from experiencing an unexpected spectrum of stuff all in the one place.
It is in a sense reflective of how we as individuals, admittedly on a smaller scale, often acquire and collect things in an arbitrary manner following our own distinct sense of taste.
Having an opinion or viewpoint on what matters and what should be included in say a national representative cultural assemblage is an interesting exercise. What would you choose to include and why? This would be a rare and unlikely happening but such is the concept behind Trove where the internationally renowned artist Dorothy Cross is given just such an opportunity. The national art institutes and museums of Ireland have provided her with an access-all-areas pass to their entire Collections, to choose as she pleases and to form her own giant memory box. The resulting considered selection now on show to the public at IMMA clearly reflects the tastes and obsessions of Dorothy Cross. But it also acts as a fascinating and intriguing insight into often neglected and unseen significant objects from the national Collections.
Within Trove Dorothy Cross explores and delves into many of the themes prevalent in her own work – the natural world and human interaction, reproduction, death, decay, religious and ceremonial motifs and the effects of ageing and time. The human created objects all emanate from the crafting of materials both mundane and rare. The creations from the natural world have an intrinsic strangeness and natural beauty. The range of objects on display is oblique and varied – from utilitarian 19th Century folk-art to skilfully worked art in precious metals, from pre-historic fossils to our own digital age imagery. Different textures abound and a fascination with detail, usage and crafting skills. A fine specimen of Brain Coral could be included for its mesmerising natural beauty and complexity alone. Equally a 10 million year-old fossilised tooth from an extinct shark species simply for its staggering age and sheer uniqueness.
It is easy to see how the pieces on display act as a source code to the artist’s own creative process. The purposeful juxtaposing of objects within each room does provoke a sense of new or hidden meaning as they are displayed out of their customary historical boxes. Things are revealed in a new light. Unrecognised links can be discerned. At the core of the exhibition is the idea that everything of value can be included, presenting an arcane but perhaps more holistic 19th century concept of the museum as a receptacle for all that amazes and is precious to us.
Some background detail or information to the particular objects displayed in each room could have been included with the exhibits. Also textual insights as to why Dorothy Cross has chosen them and the reasons why she has placed them with those particular items in that room. Explanatory material is available but one wonders has too much been left to the casual visitor or passing tourist to decipher themselves? But perhaps the enjoyment comes from the viewer creating his or her own linking narratives.
Trove espouses a more personal approach to collecting and exhibiting. You can try your own hand at assembling a treasure chest of fabulous objects from the national Collections at #Trove.
In conjunction Dorothy Cross’ video work Eyemaker is also currently on show in the National Gallery of Ireland.
Exhibition continues at IMMA until the 8th March.
All photos © National Gallery of Ireland, National Museum of Ireland, IMMA.