Collecting is something everyone dabbles with at some point. Whether its books or baseball caps, shoes or signatures, if you have the time and passion there’s something for everybody. My friend arranges her film collection by the colour of the DVD box and my brother arranges his by title. I order mine in a big old mess - but my cookbooks are (I’m proud to say) by date.
Is the way you order the things in your life so different from organising artworks? Whatever the objects, it’s a choice about how to make them function as a collection.
This week, Tate Britain’s curators have unveiled the results of just such a choice - a complete chronological rehang of the gallery’s collection.
BP Walk through British Art is a new path of interconnected and restored galleries that show the collection from 1540 right through to present day. It sounds like quite a traditional way to arrange art, but in contrast to most chronological displays (and the mixture of chronological and thematic display Tate Britain had before), the works are not grouped into movements or themes within the timeline. Instead what you see is a straight chronology of art in the real time it was made, and as art historical conventions are dispensed with, revealing juxtapositions are offered up. For example, the ‘contrast between Ben Nicholson’s early abstract composition and Alfred Munnings’s depiction of the royal party at Ascot, both from the mid-1920s, suggests how radical abstraction would have seemed to many at that time’ according to Chris Stephens, Curator, Head of Displays at Tate Britain.
Penelope Curtis, the Director of Tate Britain, says that the aim of this approach is to encourage visitors to walk through the building, experience the collection and get to know it on a ‘journey through time’, whilst encountering works that may previously have been overlooked: ‘This more fully chronological arrangement offers a more neutral way of looking at the collection. Because famous, canonical works now sit next to lesser known works, you get a real cross-section of the time and a sense of the evolution of art.’
And although the earliest painting is dated 1545, Curtis points out that ‘there’s no right place to begin.’ The order is there, but you can do with it as you will - just as I put my recipe books in date order because I like how the covers evolve over time (I’m a food geek, ok?), but I regularly pluck out Nigella before Delia.
How do you arrange the collections in your life and why? Why favour colour over chronology, aesthetics over alphabet? How will you get to know the collection at the new Tate Britain? And of course, more importantly, have we inspired you to spring clean your bookcase or that dusty old shelf of CDs?
BP Walk through British Art is open now at Tate Britain