Step inside the collections of art’s greats at Barbican’s new exhibition, Magnificent Obsessions

PUBLISHED: 12:06 19 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:06 19 February 2015

Damien Hirst's skulls

Damien Hirst's skulls

2015 Getty Images

Andy Warhol’s cookie jars, a series of skulls belonging to Damien Hirst and Hiroshi Sugimoto’s collection of 18th century Japanese books on human anatomy are just a few of the revealing curiosities on display at the Barbican’s new show, finds Alex Bellotti.

Pae White amongst her scarves collection. Picture: Peter MacdiarmidPae White amongst her scarves collection. Picture: Peter Macdiarmid

Shining a light on the lives of post-war and contemporary artists such as Peter Blake, Pae White and Hanne Darboven, Magnificent Obsessions aims to show the relationship between an artist’s collections and their inspirations, influences, motives and obsessions.

The objects from each collection vary in numbers from less than 20 to more than 3,000 items, encompassing everything from mass-produced board game covers to handcrafted samurai armour. Alongside at least one piece of each artist’s work, they are installed in separate spaces within the gallery, reflecting each artist’s aesthetic style, display techniques and live-work environment.

While many artists make direct use of their collections for research and study purposes – sometimes incorporating individual items into their own work – others keep them under wraps or in storage. Some are connoisseurs, carefully shaping their collections and selling objects to make new purchases, and others accumulate hoards of things, never letting anything go.

Jane Alison, head of visual arts at Barbican Art Gallery, said: “What a joy to have brought together the treasured private collections of the 14 artists in Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector.”

Dr Lakra's record covers collection. Picture: Peter MacdiarmidDr Lakra's record covers collection. Picture: Peter Macdiarmid

“The thrill of collecting is something we can all relate to, and I am sure visitors will enjoy this deeply personal and endlessly fascinating show.”

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector runs at the Barbican Art Gallery until May 25. Visit

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