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May 23, 2007, 7:30 PM

The Mind of the Collector

Participants: Leah Dilworth (moderator), Eric Edelman, Steven Heller, Dorothy Globus, Bill Scanga, Tyler Volk

Behind every collection there is a collector whose motivations may run the gamut from a quest for scientific knowledge or class status, to obsession, compulsion, or greed. Where does the desire to collect come from? Is it a genetic predisposition, a relic of our hunter-gatherer past, an act of individual imagination? In addition, the processes of collecting and acquisition are rife with psychological, cultural, and political meaning. What is the relationship between the collector and the collection? What happens to objects as they cross cultural boundaries and move in and out of the marketplace? Collections themselves offer occasions for a multitude of interpretations. What narratives do they tell? What and how do they "represent"? This roundtable discussion among collectors, writers, and scholars will explore how and why collectors and collections make meaning.

Leah Dilworth teaches English at Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus. She is the author of Imagining Indians in the Southwest: Persistent Visions of a Primitive Past. This work led her to consider collecting as one mode of representing the Native people of the Southwest. Recognizing collecting as a "discourse"—a system of making meaning—she continues to teach and write about collecting in all its strange and marvelous incarnations. She edited the volume of essays Acts of Possession: Collecting in America, and she has served on the board of directors of the City Reliquary since 2005.

Eric Edelman is a collagist and found-object sculptor living in New York City. He has exhibited at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Arts Club, Long Island University, and various private galleries. His work is represented in several private and institutional collections and has appeared in the books The Art of the Miniature and Genius in a Bottle, as well as the monograph Eric Edelman: Collages of the Unconscious. He draws material for artwork from his personal collections, which include wood engravings, shells, bones, compasses, wooden shapes, porcelain doll parts, game pieces, machine parts, bottles, pins, toys, and pentagonal objects.

Dorothy Twining Globus has been involved in various facets of collecting for over three decades. She has encountered and worked with innumerable collectors as Curator of Exhibitions at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and, currently, Curator of Exhibitions at the Museum of Arts & Design. Globus also curates her own numerous collections, which include New York City memorabilia, postcards, paper ephemera, ceramics, watering cans, insulators, staplers, pencil sharpeners, pencils, erasers, tacks and paperclips.

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts, and co-counder of the MFA in Design Criticism. He was Art Director at the New York Times for 33 years and now writes the "Visuals" column for the Book Review. He is the author of over 100 books on graphic design and popular and visual culture, including a series of books on art deco graphics, a biography of Paul Rand, and a critical history of the Swastika. He is currently writing Iron Fists: Branding the Totalitarian State, for which he has been collecting the graphic artifacts and detritus of the 20th century's principal dictatorships.

Bill Scanga lives and works in New York City. He is The Vice President of Collections at the City Reliquary. The City Reliquary is a museum and civic organization that is dedicated to New York City and its history. As the Vice President of Collections, he curates exhibitions of collections. Bill's own collections include extra-terrestrial figurines, baby-face potholders, poodle liquor bottle covers, bicycles, and swung glass vases. He is currently employed at a major commercial art gallery as an artwork production manager.

Tyler Volk is Associate Professor of Biology and Science Director of the Environmental Studies program at New York University. He has a long-standing interest in the structures and functions of systems at multiple levels, and is author of the books Metapatterns Across Space, Time, and Mind, Gaia's Body: Towards a Physiology of Earth, and What is Death?: A Scientist Looks at the Cycles of Life.


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