Rapid Response Collecting: Not All Objects are Created Equal

Today we bring you an article by Erica Colwell, currently a Tufts student in the Museum Studies certificate program. For Museums Today: Mission and Function, the foundation course required for all Museum Studies students, students research and report on a recent topic regarding museums in the news.

In 2014, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London announced a new collecting strategy: rapid response collecting. This type of collecting involves a team of curators that “scour the streets—in a global sense—for items of interest and get them into the museum as quickly as possible.” The goal is to collect objects that are relevant to the present time, in hopes of creating an exhibition that will be updated regularly.

The curators on the rapid response team are putting a lot of thought into the objects they are bringing into the V&A’s collection. Collecting objects that represent current global culture is no easy task, in part because the scope of the collecting strategy is so broad. Some of the objects the V&A has collected via the rapid response method include the world’s first 3D-printed gun, an electronic cigarette, and Katy Perry false eyelashes.3 An eclectic array of objects, it is not immediately apparent why these items are being considered “museum worthy.” Kieran Long, the Senior Curator of Contemporary Architecture, Design and Digital at the V&A, offers the following argument for her decision to add the Katy Perry false eyelashes to the collection:

This apparently insignificant object unfolds a wide range of histories and worlds, involving several timely issues that link at a stroke the magic of Cleopatra, as played by Elizabeth Taylor in 1963, to what some would consider the darkest excesses of global consumer capitalism, encompassing theatre and performance, gender theory, images of the feminine…

While this is an impressive argument, such an argument could be made for virtually any object, because every object has a history. A curator could pick up a roll of paper towels and explain how our society has moved from the hand-made to the mass-produced, from the essential to the disposable. Not all objects are created equal.

Even though there may be no right or wrong answer to the question “what is art,” some of the objects collected via the rapid response method are more “museum-worthy” than the Katy Perry false eyelashes. The set of Christian Louboutin stilettos in different shades of nude representing the skin colors of women of different races is one such object. The shoes are art in the fashion sense (the shoes are beautiful) and the conversation-sparking sense (racial inequality is a hot-button issue for many in the world today.) The key is to have an argument that will convince visitors that viewing the object is worthwhile. In fact, getting people to talk about why one object is art and another object is not art is one of the best conversations a curator could hope to start amongst their museum’s visitors. The Louboutin set of stilettos is therefore an example of rapid response collecting done right.

While many might rejoice at a museum displaying objects that are truly current, some are wary of collecting objects in this way. I believe rapid response collecting could be a great thing, though it is possible to take it too far. Though museums cannot ignore the art and design being created today if they want to remain relevant, the arguments behind some of the objects being collected via the rapid response method are stronger than others. Since it is often the relevance of an object over time that indicates its value, collecting objects without that passage of time could mean that the choice of objects is based solely on the tastes of those curators doing the collecting.

Survey Results

We are excited to share with you some results from our survey about your reading and viewing preferences! First, though, we want to thank you for taking the time to write down your comments, and for volunteering for guest posts. We should have some interesting posts coming your way soon!

Second, the survey is still open, and we are always checking it for updates so we can stay on top of what you deem important. So if you haven’t taken it yet and want to, or you just feel like changing an aspect of your response (since we know you have nothing better to do with your free time), feel free to follow this link.

Now, for results:

  • Many of you commented that you enjoyed the new layout of the blog. We’re still tweaking around with it, so if you have suggestions, let us know!
  • We got many comments on the helpfulness of the job postings. Since people are reading and noticing the job postings, if you have one you’d like posted on the blog, please email us at tufts.museum.blog@gmail.com
  • The majority of our readers access the blog through their computer browser (not the mobile site). We’re happy you want to view any way, but we’ve managed to make the mobile site more readable as well, if you want to check that out.
  • We had a lot of interest in posts about student led projects, which we were not expecting. Due to these responses, we’ve reached out to various classes in the Museum Studies program and hope to be bringing you posts from different classes. You’ll be able to read about students’ takes on issues in museums as well as get a sense of what different classes offer. We are also exploring the option of having professors or current students write reviews of their course so that you can see what a class might be like before you decide to take it (if you’re a student!). We’ll keep you updated on that front.
    Survey Graph 1
  • Some of you commented that the job postings can be confusing, if you don’t know where each museum is. Because of this, we’re more consistent about posting the city and state in the heading. We’re still working on a better way to coordinate the postings by region, so stay tuned!


Event: Historic New England’s “The Making of ‘Haymarket'”

Join Historic New England at the Otis House on Monday, November 9, for an author discussion on the new book, Haymarket. Hear Historic New England Manager of Community Engagement and Exhibitions (and Tufts professor!) Ken Turino and photographer Justin Goodstein talk about their experiences and their discoveries about Haymarket Square.

Please see the flyer below for more information.

Making Haymarket 2015b

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. As always, they go up immediately on their own page. Happy hunting!

Event: Raise the Roof at the Tufts Art Gallery

On Wednesday, November 4 at 7 PM, the Tufts Art Gallery is hosting a screening of the documentary “Raise the Roof” by Yari and Cary Wolinski. The film will be screened in room 304 of Tisch Library and will be followed by a panel discussion with the artists and filmmakers.

This event is FREE for Tufts ID holders. For all others, cost is $10. Please see the flyer below for more information.

 Raise the Roof flyer