Shelf Life

Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa District, Haifa, 02/06/2010 - 07/17/2010

26 Shabtai Levi Street


The exhibition "Shelf Life" examines the concern with the concept of "collecting" in a range of contexts - memory, nostalgia, commemoration, the fear of death, the relations between nature and culture, conventions of exhibition and display, and the collection's social function as a status symbol. The title "Shelf Life" implicitly points to the paradox underlying the phenomenon of collecting - that is, the simultaneous preservation and expiration of life. The preoccupation with collections and collecting reflects the growing interest of contemporary artists in offering alternatives to modern classificatory categories - a quintessential postmodern strategy that contains an implicit social critique of consumption. The participating artists touch upon the theme of "collecting" by exploring terms such as gathering, hoarding, accumulating, classifying, cataloguing, endowing with meaning and excess. Their works reveal that actions involving systems of organization - often perceived as compulsive and controlling - may also lead to the creation of new meanings.
Psychologists tend to define the urge to collect as an obsession whose clinical manifestations include piles of cardboard boxes and overcrowded storage rooms. Scholars who study this phenomenon agree that its pathological extreme is "compulsive hoarding." According to some opinions, collecting is the malaise of the moneyed, an offshoot of the culture of leisure; others tie the love of collecting to the pleasures of ownership, which is associated - at least in the art world - with rewards including social status, prestige, personal empowerment, patronage and a sense of power and control.
Various types of collections have existed since the dawn of civilization, ranging from those discovered in Pharaonic tombs to the Renaissance "cabinets of wonder" and the birth of the museum, which is inextricably tied to those collectors of "curiosities" who gathered rare and exotic objects from around the world and displayed them together without any kind of underlying order. These collections gave expression to a sense of curiosity and a desire to procure wondrous natural and cultural artifacts. It comes as no surprise, then, that a significant number of artists have gravitated to the trope of collecting as a central theme in their work, and have contracted some form of "collecting fever," which also motivates them as an artistic strategy.
"Shelf Life" thus attempts to show how both Israeli and international contemporary artists relate in their works to the complexities and various aspects of collecting in innovative ways, while analyzing the aesthetic syntax of different kinds of collections and the psychological aspects of this phenomenon and of the artist-collector's obsessions. Above all, "Shelf Life" raises the question of what artists collect, and of how the nature of their collections is related to the act of artmaking itself. The tangle of themes that emerge from these works contains threads that lead in various directions. If a collection is a plot of sorts, then an exhibition of and about collections is a multivocal plot with numerous acts, a homage to the creative act of preserving the visual memories related to images and objects.

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Michal Heiman

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