January 7, 2013

Much to do about stuff

Student explores changing views of material culture


She interned there as a docent while studying at SUNY Plattsburgh.

“They have a Civil War service record signed by Abraham Lincoln. I remember being astonished by a 15th century illuminated manuscript. It’s mostly a post-colonial collection, but they have a lot of diversity there,” Elliot said.

The Alice T. Miner Museum wafts authentic aura as articulated by Walter Benjamin, a 19th century theorist.

In her thesis, Elliot writes about the circulation of antiques and relics, and how that transverses the boundaries of private ownership and public display.

“The Alice is an amazing place to have this presentation,” she said. “It’s set up like a post-colonial house. It feels very private, but it is a very public entity.”

Elliot deals with antiques and domestic objects such as tools, pots and guns.

“The yard sale is interesting. This private element is exposed to a pocket of display. Yard sales are a microcosm of this. If you think of giant museum collections that rotate stuff to show things off in their archives, a yard sale is a smaller version of that. (It’s) a person opening up an exhibition of their private things in a public way,” she said.

She is a fan of “American Pickers” and other similar reality TV shows that unearth the value of Americans’ stuff.

“They really do attach a commercial value to all these objects. The fact that so many of these shows exist ... there is a huge audience out there, a mass of people collecting as hobbyists. It’s a real growing subculture,” Elliot said.

The exposure changes views on what art is.

“Gas pumps and guns are now being collected and (are) boasting a price tag more than some watercolor paintings,” Elliot said. “They have a growing aesthetic value. The plethora of these shows are just illustrating that in a contemporary mindset, we are changing what we see as art. Andy Warhol started this with the soup can, and more acceptance of pop symbols within contemporary culture are also being reflected in art.”

Email Robin Caudell:

IF YOU GO WHAT: "Engaging [with] Relics," a lecture by Christina Elliot. WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday. WHERE: The Alice T. Miner Museum, 9618 Route 9, Chazy. RESERVATIONS: Call 846-7336.

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