Picture by Rachel Cockett: http://instagram.com/p/t7gtDsNZPT

Curious choices

Simon Stephens, 09.10.2014
What objects should go into a modern-day cabinet of curiosities?
A 19th-century Japanese dildo, a spider's web and a stuffed curator were among the suggestions for objects to go into a modern-day cabinet of curiosities at a session at the Museums Association conference in Cardiff.

The inspiration for the discussion was London's Garden Museum, which is recreating part of John Tradescant's Ark, a 17th-century cabinet of curiosities that included shells, plants, a stuffed penguin and dodo. John Tradescant and his son were gardeners and collectors, and were buried in the church that is now home to the Garden Museum. Their collection formed the basis of Oxford's Ashmolean Museum. The Garden Museum project is part of the museum's £6.6m redevelopment.

Each of the speakers was asked to choose an object that reflected the history of museums to put into a modern-day cabinet of curiosities.

Emily Fuggle, the Garden Museum's collections and project curator, chose a pair of men's brown leather shoes from the Tradescant collection. Richard Wentworth, the Garden Museum's artist in residence, chose a spider's web for his cabinet of curiosities object. But he did not want to be limited to one artefact.

“I would bring bloody everything to a cabinet of curiosities because it's all interesting,” said Wentworth, who has also been working with the collection at Manchester Museum recently.

Actor, performer and disability rights activist Mat Fraser chose Henrietta Maria and Sir Jeffrey Hudson, Court Dwarf with His Pet Monkey by Anthony van Dyck. He said descriptions of Hudson reflected the poor representation of disability in museums and in wider society. Fraser, who is profiled in the November issue of Museums Journal, also chose a Japanese dildo and herbs from the Garden Museum.

Delegates were also asked for their choices of objects. Suggestions included a dodo, a butterfly and a stuffed curator. It was also suggested that there should be an empty cabinet to reflect the many stories and objects that are missing from museums.