As museum acquisitions grow, and amid a ballooning number of museums around the world, New York’s New Museum has mounted a show centered around the practice of collecting. The museum itself doesn’t collect, so the show may come with a dose of irony; the curators may intend, with this sprawling show, a knowing nod to the museum enterprise itself. Might the acquisitive urges of business-suited boards of trustees be so distinct from those of the hoarder in apartment 2B?
But “The Keeper” isn’t just about collecting, and it’s not only about art. Through thousands of artworks and other artifacts, it explores the impulse to preserve, archive, and protect objects, and suggests blurred lines between benign and destructive forms of classification. Organized by artistic director Massimiliano Gioni along with associate curator Margot Norton and assistant curators Natalie Bell and Helga Christoffersen, the show extends throughout most of the museum’s galleries.
In a catalogue essay, Gioni touches on the psychology of collecting via the example of his own library. In a striking confession, Gioni conveys the realization “that what I am trying to hide behind these books might be the thing I fear the most—my absolute, impenetrable ignorance.” The notion of collecting as a bulwark against vulnerability—not only against personal lack but against decay and mortality itself—carries throughout the show.