This weekend I was in Philadelphia, and I went to the Rosenbach museum to see a small exhibit of outsider art, which, by the way, was very small and without any curatorial insight to orient viewers — no little bios of the artists, for example, which would seem important in appreciating outsider art, where half the fun is piercing the obscurity from which such works come. But the Rosenbach museum is primarily a repositiory for the rare book collection of the Rosenbach brothers, two obsessive collectors from the early twentieth century. The museum is really a monument to the taste and ingenuity of these brothers, and surveying the museum’s holdings is like taking a tour of their accrued personality.
The vanity and ego behind such collecting once was strictly the province of the wealthy, but modern consumerism has made it the imperative of everyone, which makes the Rosenbach museum a specific tribute to our heritage, and a place where one can learn more august strategies of selfhood. We are all in a position to be assembling our legacy identity through what objects we accumulate. It only makes sense that museums should begin to celebrate the collectors rather than the artists.