Last night at the Mint Museum, architect Preston Scott Cohen spoke about the historic precedents behind his recent museum designs. The conversation spurred fond memories for me of kunstkammers, wunderkammers and those other early modern collections of objects, generally grouped under the category “cabinets of curiosity.” (Remember the piece of furniture that displayed your grandmother’s Hummel figures, the “curio cabinet”? There you have it. Do you see the aha moments I’m handing out here?)
The scholarship and debate on the kunstkammer (literally, “art-room”) runs deep and a bit hot in certain circles. Sounds like real, perhaps slightly mad, art history geekery I know, but the reason is this: cabinets of curiosity and the like were the beginnings of what we now recognize as mainstays of civilized culture – museums.
I’m telling you, this is good stuff. If you’re interested in geeking out with your art history and museology cousins, here are a few essays on the subject:
Thomas Dacosta Kaufmann, “From the mastery of the world to the mastery of nature: the kunstkammer, politics, and science,” The Mastery of Nature (Princeton [NJ]: Princeton University Press, 1993).
And a personal favorite of mine on collections: Jean Baudrillard, “The Non-Functional system, or subjective discourse”, The System of Objects.