Curator's Corner, 5/1/2016
I need a miracle! Specifically, these Lancôme Miracle Cushion Compacts

MM Musings, vol. 23 : building a permanent collection

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!

No planIt occurred to me that I spend so much time fantasizing about a Makeup Museum that I never really thought about what would actually go in it if it occupied a real space.  I mean, I have a vague idea, but no formal plan.  Truthfully, up to this point I had envisioned having endless funds to buy thousands of lovely objects and I'd just stick 'em in the display cases as I pleased.  However, it was brought to my attention that museums have something known as a collections plan, which outlines priorities for the current collection as well as planning for future collection growth.  Apparently you can't just set up a physical space and go plopping random objects down willy-nilly, you need to pin down what the most important things are for the collection for now and in the future.  This is especially important when, like nearly all museums, you're dealing with very limited resources, both financial and space-wise.  So with that in mind, I thought I'd put my totally unrealistic daydreams aside for a minute and try to narrow down what would be the most important things to have in the Makeup Museum if it occupied a real space.

Before I can do that though, what exactly is a collections plan?  I looked for examples and immediately got overwhelmed - many museums' collections plans are quite in-depth and are for museums that already exist.  But then I found this slideshow from the Peabody Museum at Harvard that provides a brief, point-by-point summary of a collections plan, so I will be using it as my guide in this post.  The most basic topics to address in a collections plan are as follows:

  • Defines what the museum should and should not collect
  • Set priorities for use of limited resources
  • Historic and contemporary collections composition
  • Strengths, weaknesses, gaps & goals
  • Short term (current) needs and long term (future) needs

With that, coming up with a minimal collections plan seemed a bit more manageable.  Hopefully I won't bore you, dear readers (all 2 of you), by doing it this way, but I'm going to go through one at a time.

1.  Define what the museum should and shouldn't collect. 

Well, this shouldn't be too hard.  Basically the Makeup Museum would be open to any cosmetic-related objects, including but not limited to color cosmetics, nail products, skincare, and related advertising and devices (love to get my hands on one of these Max Factor "beauty calibrators"!)  The only things I can't imagine it collecting would be perfumes and items that lean more towards health (i.e. toothbrushes, deodorants, etc.), as I see these as separate areas from color cosmetics and skincare.

2.  Set priorities for use of limited resources. 

Now here comes the hard part.  Obviously I had always thought the Makeup Museum would be comprehensive, and when I say "comprehensive" what I actually mean is having damn near every cosmetic object from the beginning of time housed under one roof over thousands of square feet - the museum would practically be its own city.  There would be entire wings devoted to just, say, artist collaborations or men's grooming.  *record scratch*  Back to reality, which demands that I trim down these rather grandiose plans.  After looking at the Museum's current mission statement, I think my priorities for a permanent collection would be:

- Forming a timeline of the history of cosmetics via collecting objects from different eras - everything from ancient to contemporary times would be represented, with an emphasis on the 20th century.  Ideally I'd like to have displays by decade starting with the late 1800s through today.  Priority would be given to those objects that show innovation in technology and design (e.g., the first mascara sold in a tube rather than cake form).  Priority would also be given to more recognizable brands as well as items that are the most representative of the particular time.  For example, since face powder was the most commonly worn beauty item in the early 1900s, I want to have a nice selection of those for the 1900-1920 decades.  And if there's an eye shadow from a little-known brand from the '60s that's available for sale versus, say, a Mary Quant eye shadow crayon set, obviously I'm going to pounce on the Mary Quant because it's a better-known name that will resonate with more people.

- Obtain objects that speak to traditionally underrepresented demographics in the cosmetics industry:  people of color, non-cis-women genders, people over the age of 40.  For this last group let's try to concentrate on things besides anti-aging treatments!

- Focus on contemporary makeup with artist and fashion collaborations.  I'd also like to address the latest trends and cutting-edge technology to show where the cosmetics industry is headed in the future.

3.  Historic and contemporary collections comparison

According to the current inventory (which badly needs to be updated again, sigh), I have much work to do in historic collections.  If I'm ever going to provide even a brief snapshot of makeup throughout the ages, I better have more than only 6% (!!!) of the collection that's from the 20th century.  By my count, out of 780 objects, I have only 32 that represent anything earlier than 1990, and only a smattering of things from the '90s and early '00s.  Oof.

4.  Strengths, weaknesses, gaps & goals

Obviously the strengths of the current collection would be contemporary makeup, especially artist and fashion collaborations, while the weaknesses/gaps would be the overall lack of objects from before the 21st century as well as a focus on American brands.  I do always intend on expanding to include non-U.S. based brands but they can be rather tricky to get a hold of.  The goal would ostensibly be to collect more items from the 20th century and prior.

5.  Short term (current) needs and long term (future) needs

The Makeup Museum's short-term needs are pretty basic - obtain items that would provide a broad history of makeup.  Specifically, it would be ideal to get at least 3 objects and two ads from each decade from the 1890s to now.  Future needs are more complicated, as the industry moves so quickly it's difficult to assess what the Museum would require down the line.  I'm assuming I'd need to plan for any sort of anniversaries (brands, a particular product, etc.) as well as special exhibitions on certain topics.  I think I'd also have my sights set on really big ticket, rare objects - besides very pricey ancient artifacts and items from the Renaissance through the 18th century, I think some luxury items, like the sort we saw in the Ultra Vanities exhibition, would greatly enhance the collection and make for a world-class museum.

So, does this sound like a good plan to start with?  If you were a visitor, what would you want to see in a makeup museum's permanent collection?

 

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