Private Tastes and Public Desires: Exploring the Perspectives and Practices of Private Collectors who Share their Collections Publicly

Author: Griffin, Kiri

Date: 2012

Publisher: Victoria University of Wellington

Type: Scholarly text, Master's

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Victoria University of Wellington


Private collectors who share their collections publicly provide a valuable service to the public. They collect and provide access to cultural heritage materials just as public institutions such as museums and galleries within the heritage sector do. While there is a wealth of literature that discusses the significance of publicly funded heritage institutions to the heritage sector there is an absence of literature that explores the private collector’s relationship to the heritage sector from their perspective. Literature on private collectors has tended to privilege the perspectives of publicly funded heritage institutions, affirming these institutions as the best place for the care and access to heritage collections. None of this literature or research has considered the private collector’s perspective as a means to better understand their collecting activities or their position in relation to the heritage sector. This thesis places the private collector at the centre of enquiry. It explores the private collector’s position in relation to the heritage sector through examining their perceptions and collecting practices relative to publicly funded heritage institutions. Audiovisual interviews were conducted with eight private collectors to achieve this aim. Verbal and observational data captured through this method was analyzed and considered in relation to existing literature regarding the values and practices of public heritage institutions, as well as sociological theories of agency. Findings showed that there is a shared ethos between the private collector and the publicly funded heritage institution. This ethos is founded on common values and collecting practices. Findings also reveal that the individual agency of the private collector offers them autonomy in their collecting activities. This autonomy causes them to enact their collecting practices in accordance with their own subjective tastes. These tastes distinguish the private collector and their collecting practices from publicly funded heritage institutions and assist in identifying the private collector’s position in relation to the heritage sector. This research contributes to a canon of international and national research into private collectors and evaluative judgments regarding collecting. It enhances the publicly funded heritage institutions potential to collaborate with private collectors through providing a deeper understanding of their perspectives and practices.

Subjects: Collecting practices, Display practices, Heritage