The NY Times is once again covering museums. The latest article, “In Texas Tradition, Museums That Enshrine the Quirky,” underscores how any collection of things can be displayed and called a museum. Apparently, collectors in Texas take seriously the American Association of Museums’ criteria that to be a museum it must make a “unique contribution to the public by collecting, preserving, and interpreting the things of this world.”
In this case, another quotidian table utensil, the lowly pepper mill, has been extracted from the world of utility and elevated to an objet d’art. For the family, collecting these pepper mills is equivalent to collecting art: “It becomes more about buying an art piece than a functioning piece.”
This collection, despite receiving the imprimatur of the Smithsonian, is no better or worse than Harley Spiller’s collection of 10,000 Chinese takeout menus: Inspector Collector: Chinese Menus. In both cases the collectors are exercising authority and establishing expertise by collecting, arranging, and controlling access to their objects.