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Douglas Coupland: How hoarding and collecting Is the stuff of life and death


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In the November issue of e-flux journal, Douglas Coupland contemplates how various forms of collecting—including art collecting—function as both a denial of, and an unconscious preparation for, death. An excerpt:

I think it’s perhaps also important to note that most curators almost never collect anything—yes, all those magazine spreads with the large empty white apartments—and if you ever ask a minimalist curator what they collect, they often make that pained face which is actually quite similar to the Jif jar lover upon the moment of possible surrender. But you don’t understand, I have no choice in this matter. You merely see an empty apartment, but for me this apartment is full of nothingness. That’s correct: I hoard space. A friend of mine is a manufacturer and seller of modernist furniture. Five years ago he built a new showroom, and he was so in love with how empty it was, he kept it unused for a year as a private meditation space.

Most writers I’ve met, especially during the embryonic phase of writing a novel, stop reading other writers’ books because it’s so easy for someone else’s style to osmotically leak into your own. I wonder if that’s why curators are so often minimalists: there’s nothing to leak into their brains and sway their point of view, which is perhaps how they maintain a supernatural power to be part of the process that turns air into millions of dollars.

On the other hand, most art dealers are deeply into all forms of collecting, as if our world is just a perpetual Wild West of shopping. I once visited a collector specializing in nineteenth-century North American West Coast works who had an almost parodically dull house in a suburb at what he called “street level.” But beneath this boring tract home were, at the very least, thousands of works arranged as though in a natural history museum.

Image: Klaus Biesenbach poses for German GQ in his New York apartment. Photo: Floto + Warner. Via e-flux journal.