The Archaeology of Collecting

by Sydney Picasso

I suppose the little grains scattered by Hansel and Gretel are the best metaphor for my collecting habits.

The points sketch out my life, and its cross-continental itinerancy. When I was a child I buried things, only to dig them up to see what had happened: often my brothers beat me to it, and I dug and dug around trying to find the little boxes and treasures I had buried.

As I studied archaeology I have a tendency to look at the ground when I walk, and pick up random bits and pieces or debris: some of these are presently under glass in a floor piece by Laurent Baude, the French artist, along with certain fragments of junk my children picked up, or that he himself found in Jordan when he was digging in Petra as a teenager.

Later when I started interviewing artists for French publications, I often acquired a work, the passion for the artist spilling over: since all the 80’s artists were friends, our friendship blossomed as we shared in having their works at home, where they often came to dine: Keith Haring, George Condo, Julian Schnabel, Miquel Barcelo were frequent visitors.

A life long interest in China and Ancient Greece led us to buy furniture and other artifacts- just enough to fill an already bulging house! Modern and Contemporary Art is very much at home with African, Oceanic, and Classical Art.

I have recently worked on several projects based on 19th century photography, so in the course of studying the voyages of Miot, and more recently Atomic Explosions in the Pacific, I have been lucky to find some archival material.

Print and book media have always interested me, and I am a member of a book-collecting club, which sponsors collaborations of artists with writers, and I have been able to continue collecting several more recherchè prints from contemporary artists.

Having worked in museums for many years, I am the first to admit that the great works are in our museums, and should stay there, so I have had the immense privilege to see masterpieces, both backstage and in the public rooms.

I have been reading Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, and am fascinated by the manner in which he is able to transform fictitious relics into real objects, which he has deposited in his Museum in Istanbul.

‘And so looking at any of the things gathered in the Merhamet Apartments, even only to remember them, was like looking at the cigarette butts: one by one, they would recall the particles of experience until I had summoned up the entire reality of sitting at the dinner table…’

Fragments, memento mori, all of these things which we somehow shuttle from flat to flat, life to life: it fascinates me how they pop up even when one has forgotten them, little matter the actual value: it is more the instant, the emotion of the moment one gathers a shell, or a dried flower or a tiny piece of sea washed glass… Likewise for a painting or sculpture: they are all part of our existence, rich or poor, and it is somehow the tie that binds us all as humans, a sort of onstage archaeology.