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MM Musings, vol. 21: Quantity vs. Quality

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Someecard-quantityI was reading this post over at the Center for the Future of Museums, which discusses how museums, history ones in particular, are prone to perceiving the quantity of items in their collections as more important than the quality or significance of those items. "Museums too often equate size with quality...we need to stop treating artifacts the same – too many museums pretend that all their collections are equally valuable and they budget the same amount for care across the board instead of focusing their resources on the pieces that best support their mission."  The post also describes what's known as "lazy artifacts", i.e. objects that have been accumulated but are never used in research, exhibitions or other programming - they just sit in storage.

Obviously this got me thinking about the current Makeup Museum collection.  More specifically, I wondered whether the collection suffers from the same affliction as most history museums: having too many objects that serve no discernible purpose.  To put it another way, am I curating wrong??  I touched on this previously in my 2012 MM Musings post on acquisitions, in which I described how I decide what to purchase for the Museum.  I think that criteria still stands for the most part.  The only thing I'm uncertain about is the "filler" items I discussed.  Sometimes an object isn't so great on its own, but would prove to be useful in an exhibition on a particular theme.  But I still strongly feel as though not every item has to be a showstopper. 

So let's investigate why that is.  Does sheer quantity outweigh content?  Do I really need all or most of the items in a particular makeup collection or an object from every single artist collaboration or should I be paring down, spending the same amount I would for several easily available objects on a single rare object?  I feel as though I'm actually siding with history museums, misguided though that may be.  Right now, quality is important to me but not as much as quantity for several reasons.  First, makeup items are small.  If you display just a handful of makeup objects all grouped around the same theme, it's not going to look very impressive.  I know when putting my exhibitions together I always like to have two items per shelf or an item and an ad or some other visual to go with the object.  A compact, detailed though it may be, lacks the impact of a big item like a large painting, sculpture, piece of furniture, clothing, etc.  Thus, more is better from a visual standpoint.  Along those lines, if the Museum does eventually get a physical space, I'd want to have tons of objects on permanent display divided into different categories - lots of things released by couture houses, artist collaborations, etc. will be needed to adequately fill said space.  I can completely understand why history museums feel the urge to accumulate more objects, as seeing a big number is really gratifying to both collectors and visitors alike.  The Museum currently has over 700 objects and I can't wait to hit the 1,000 mark, which sounds insane as I'm typing it, but I think people would want to see thousands of objects.  Just imagine being in a space that boasts over 1,000 beauty items.

Second, the Makeup Museum seeks to cover a broad area.  I want the museum to encompass just about anything related to makeup and beauty (save for perfume) and from all time periods.  When I began this little adventure most of the focus was on contemporary objects that are deemed "too pretty to use" and artist collaborations, but over the years my goals have shifted slightly in that my ideal makeup museum now would also have a healthy vintage collection and nearly anything else makeup-themed, so acquiring more objects to ensure all areas are represented is definitely in keeping with the current mission.  Finally, while I only have a few truly rare and valuable pieces, I don't think less expensive objects are necessarily of less quality or interest.  I can justify everything on the Museum's inventory (which badly needs to be updated, I know).  I have to consider getting a good bang for my buck, as it were. Right now I can't justify spending $500 on a single item when I could buy many more collectibles that are of the same quality (or at least near it) with the same amount of money.

After this brief exploration of the Makeup Museum's current collection practices, I think I'm just going to stay the course.  Eventually I think I will reduce what I buy and hone in on more rare, expensive pieces, but for right now I'm still in the collection-building phase, especially for vintage items, so quantity is a priority. 

TL;DR: Size matters. 

What do you think?  

 

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