The act of collecting is sometimes driven by an impulse to acquire, a reluctance to forfeit, or a desire to preserve. Whatever the impetus, every collection is more than the sum of its parts, divulging information about a person, a place, or time past. The exhibitions The Collectors and Nile Sunset Annex: The Many Hats, at Haines Gallery in San Francisco, explore a variety of collections, the intentions behind them and the stories they tell.
The Collectors showcases three artists whose practices rely on archiving and accumulating. Nigel Poor’s series of photographs, Found (1998), toes the line between eerie and mundane with snapshots of the streets of San Francisco in the late-1990s. A wall of framed black-and-white images document objects found while walking the city’s streets, each one labeled with the date and location of its discovery. A headless plastic doll found at Precita and Shotwell lays face down in a gutter, discarded by a child and waiting for someone new to confer significance upon it.
Rob Craigie’s installation displays some of the artist’s personal collections of found materials, from marbles to Tuvaluan stamps. A collection of Robert Smithson–related objects includes a poster of one of the late artist’s works, a 1970 VHS tape about the Smithson's Spiral Jetty, and a map of Rozel Point, Spiral Jetty’s location on the Great Salt Lake. A large jar of salt crystals, presumably gathered near the famous earthwork, sits atop the map. One who has never visited Spiral Jetty can imagine the contours of the lake’s coastline and the salt crystals that compose the work. This collections offers the viewer far more than a single photograph might.
Stockpile (2011) is Allison Smith’s enormous, precariously stacked pyramid of unfinished wood furniture and objects. Unlike Poor and Craigie, Smith’s assemblage is not comprised of objects found randomly or collected organically. The furniture, barrels and spinning wheels were created with intention by the artist and are meant to evoke craftwork of colonial America. This imposing piece shows collections need not accumulate over time, but can be manufactured and guided from the outset.
Artists Taha Belal and Jenifer Evans run Nile Sunset Annex, a contemporary art space inside an apartment in a leafy Cairo neighborhood. Since 2013, Nile Sunset Annex has invited a dozen artists, from Egypt and abroad, to exhibit in this spare-room gallery. Belal and Evans acquire one piece of work from each exhibition, constituting what they call Cairo’s only public contemporary art collection.
With Nile Sunset Annex: The Many Hats, Belal and Evans bring the Annex to the back room of Haines Gallery, representing their exhibitions with 1:5-scale versions of the pieces in their collection. Each work is displayed on a shelf alongside exhibition documentation, ranging from postcards to vinyl records, printed publications to websites.
A frowning Raggedy Ann–like doll slumps on one of these shelves next to a postcard depicting the original 15-foot fabric and leather sculpture by Paul Simon Richards, crammed into the Nile Sunset Annex. Walid Elsawi’s two-foot-long lightbox painted with the words “I don’t care about the concept” is rendered so small the text is indelicately scrawled in with a marker.
Individual artworks are not the subject of this exhibition, but the space and community they depict are. In this way, The Many Hats is like The Collectors; the specific objects that make up each collection are of some interest, but they are overshadowed by the people, places and stories they represent.