Unconventional Art Collections – Collecting And Beyond

Paintings and sculptures are not the only things that make up an art collection. Here is a list of some fabulous unconventional collections to inspire you!

unconventional art collections

by Tanya Singh

Paintings. Sculptures. Installations. Prints. These are a few words that immediately come to mind when you think of an art collection. However, in today’s contemporary times, it would not be fair to say that these are the only artistic objects that might comprise an art collection. From sugar sachets to miniature chairs, people have been spending their time and energy in creating wonderfully unconventional and imaginative collections.

unconventional art collections
Jozsef Tari’s ‘Lilliputian Library’. | Source: Web Urbanist

A Collection A Day

Lisa Congdon is a fine artist and illustrator who has worked with companies like Chronicle Books, Running Press, Harper Collins Publishing, Target, and Pottery Barn to name a few. She started the A Collection A Day project on January 1, 2010, and all her collections are documented online on a blog of the same name. From vintage matchboxes to cookie cutters, any object that you can think of, Lisa has a collection! Being an artist, she also threw in a number of paintings of ‘imaginary’ collections that she would have liked to have.

unconventional art collections
A part of Lisa’s collection of vintage photographs of fighters. (Day 356) | Source: The Artist’s Blog

We all love our creative tools, right?

A teenager from India, Tushar Lakhanpal, holds the world record for the largest collection of pencils. According to a report from the World Record Academy (October 20, 2015), he owns 19,824 pencils from more than 40 countries across the world. We are sure he has far crossed the 20,000 milestone by now.

unconventional art collections
Tushar with his collection of pencils. | Source: World Record Academy

A souvenir is something you buy while traveling or visiting a new place as a keepsake of the time you spent there and the memories you now have. For William L. Brown, this was the inspiration for starting a collection. He bought his first letter opener in Rome in the 1950s and now his collection is made up of 5000 exquisite pieces. He recently (2012) donated his entire collection to the Santa Fe College Foundation.

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unconventional art collections
Brown’s collection at the Santa Fe College. | Source: World Record Academy

Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart, or in this case, your home!

In the tiny little town of Stone Mountain Village in Georgia (USA), Barbara Hartsfield displays the cutest collection of miniature chairs at the Minichair Gallery. She currently owns over 3,000 tiny chairs and holds the world record for the same. The best part? She groups the chairs under different themes like Coca-Cola, Jungle, and Sports, so whatever your interests may be, you will find a tiny little seat to take!

unconventional art collections
Barbara posing with her miniatures. | Source: World Record Academy

A library is essentially a collection, right? However, the library that we have on our list is slightly different. Hungarian collector Jozsef Tari has an incredible collection of over 4,500 tiny books and newspapers. Collecting since 1972,  he has a wide range of miniature literary texts from all over the globe. In fact, he has even published a few himself. The sources of pride in his hugely tiny collection are those with unusual covers made of china, carved wood or tooled leather.

commissioning artwork
A glimpse into Tari’s Lilliputian Library. | Source: Web Urbanist

Artists As Collectors

Did you know that the uniqueness of snowflakes was actually discovered as a result of a collecting project that an artist embarked on? Wilson Bentley was one of the first photographers to perfect capturing snowflakes on camera in the late 1800s. His collection was actually responsible for establishing the fact that no two snowflakes are ever alike. Bentley’s collection of over 5000 photographs of individual snowflakes was donated to the Buffalo Museum of Science, and a portion of it has been digitized into an online library.

unconventional art collections
Digitized version of Bentley’s photographs. | Source: Buffalo Museum Of Science

Speaking of photographs, the other artist on our list also produced a phenomenal work of art by collecting photographs. Ydessa Hendeles, a Canadian artist-curator and philanthropist, once displayed over 3,000 photographs of families or people posing with teddy bears. Each and every photograph in the Teddy Bear Project had a beautiful story behind it, making this project a plethora of human emotions and memories. The exhibition titled The Keeper was showcased at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York.

unconventional art collections
Hendeles’ photographs on display during the Gwangju Biennale in 2010. | Source: Gwangju Biennale

American artist Andy Warhol was not too far from being a ‘one-of-a-kind’ himself. In addition to transforming the approach toward art, he was also an avid collector of objects. One of his most revered projects was a collection of cookie jars. Although there aren’t many, each one of those kitschy ceramic structures is a sight to see. There are Disney characters, puppies, clowns, and, of course, piggies. The collection was put up for auction by Sotheby’s in 1987, estimated to sell for about $75 in sets of two, and actually ended up selling for as high as $250,000.

commissioning artwork
Warhol’s cookie jars. | Source: Super Rad Now

Singular Expensive Tastes

A very loyal fan of the Memphis Design movement, Dennis Zanone, has one of the largest collections of Memphis design objects in the world. From his 1986 Ettore-Sottssas–designed telephone to the “Tawaraya” boxing ring that he uses as his bed, Zanone literally lives in his collection. “I learn about the pieces through living with them,” says the collector.

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A sneak peak into Zanone’s living room. | Source: ArtNews

Sol Lewitt, the world renowned conceptual artist and theorist, sold his first work of art to Herb and Dorothy Vogel, a middle-class couple from New York. With an expense limit of less than $25,000 a year, this ordinary couple managed to create an extraordinary collection of contemporary art. From Chuck Close to Andy Goldsworthy, they now have thousands of priceless works in their collection. J. Carter Brown, the former director of the National Gallery refers to their collection “as a work of art in itself”.

commissioning artwork
The Vogels in their apartment in Manhattan. | Source: Mental Floss

Collecting art, or any object for that matter, is an extremely personal and exciting experience. For some, it is an enjoyable hobby, for others an investment, while some even consider it a way of life. Either way, a collecting hobby can definitely play a major role in enhancing your life. Like Gebbler once wrote about finding a new item for one’s collection, “Your breath quickens, your heart misses a beat and you feel hot and cold all over.” Who could ever deny such a thrill?

Do you collect art that focuses on specific themes and interest? Contact us at sales@agora-gallery.com

Was your childhood stamp/sticker/coin collection something that gave you immense pleasure?


Tanya Singh is a budding art historian and writer. She is currently pursuing her postgraduate studies at the LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. With a versatile portfolio, she has over three years of experience in writing as well as editing.

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