Review: Collections Show at The Grundy Art Gallery

Saturday saw the latest show open at The Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool. It is a collections show with a difference. Usually, when a gallery has a collections show it is a selection of work pulled from that gallery’s permanent stored collection, a chance to see older (usually Victorian or Edwardian) work that has sat in the gallery store getting a little dusty and hiding behind ever growing boxes of flyers for recent shows and rolls of bubblewrap.  Not so this time!

The Collections Show at The Grundy is a show of people’s collections, not necessarily of art, but of whatever has taken their fancy at some point and the next thing they know they have a huge number of Jelly Babies cups, Ronson lighters, Dr Who figures, Charity pin badges and H.P. Lovecraft books. Dusted off the shelves in the attics and back rooms and brought into the Grundy, these are just some of the weird and wonderful collections on show. Grundy Curator, Richard Parry, had this to say about this journey into the heart of the everyday passions of the collector:

Well, the reasoning behind getting the public to open their attics and corner cabinets, to bring their own personal collections to the gallery, is to highlight that the sense of ownership that people have to their collections, to place their collections along side The Grundy collection is a real way of involving and connecting people to the place that The Grundy has in Blackpool, it is their gallery after all.

The show itself is a wonderful eclectic mix of collections; Daleks rub shoulders with Viewmasters and jelly babies.  A mass of Cthulhu models and figures loom from a case, while models of kitsch 1960s TV Classic, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, sit next to a video compilation of the show. More ‘sensible’ collections are included.  Beautiful Ronson lighters speak of an earlier age where you couldn’t buy them ‘ten for a pound’ from a bloke on the seafront.  Blackpool FC are represented, as are submariners, Andy Capp (in huge sign form – from the now defunct Blackpool bar, Brogans) and many more.  Mixed within these are items from the Grundy Collection: Victorian fire screens, beautiful Chinese ivory chess sets and tables that are so intricately carved that it would be a crime to put your coffee cup and biscuits on them.  These are worth the visit on their own (the Laughing Parson painting does not make an appearance though).

All in all, it’s a great show, throwing the formal and personal together in a crazy mix.  It’s a must-see, touching, warm, intriguing and a fascinating glimpse at what we treasure, often in secret.  This is at the heart of why this show works so well. More than just displaying a ‘bunch of stuff’ someone owns, the collections on show give a look into how something as mundane as a Jelly Baby cup or a cigarette lighter can become things of value when sought out, found or donated to someone’s collection. Not so much financial value (but that is the case in a few of the collections) but a personal and social value.  The items become part of both a personal record and a record of the thing collected, a snapshot of its time and place when collected or produced. For example, from the collection of H.P. Lovecraft and Cthulhu items on show, you can see there are pieces that would never be able to be printed or produced in these more politically aware times. A collector can see the things they collect in a framework and context creating a physical history. We, as a viewer, can experience these little histories and feel the passion that the collector has for them, because a passion is what all these collections are about. You can ‘feel the love’, for a desperate want of a better phrase.

All that said, it is on the whole a fun show, lighter in tone than some of the previous exhibitions, and the gallery feels quite refreshingly energised by the openness of the space. It is bright, colourful and family friendly. Do remember though, if you take the kids, the Dr Who toys and Viewmasters are part of people’s collections and NOT to be played with. Oh, and don’t touch the gigantic Lovecraft board game either as the owner gets very grumpy about that.

The Collections Show is running now and continues until January 18 2014.

Featured image by Barry McCann.

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