Taking a peek into Matt Smith’s Wunderkammer reveals a kaleidoscope of forms — dramatically swooping, jarringly upright, wonderfully curvaceous — lavished in a coat of luxurious matte black. Visually and texturally stunning, Smith’s series of sculptures was born during his residency at the Victoria & Albert Museum where he worked for approximately 5 months from October 2015 to March 2016. He drew inspiration from the V&A’s extensive ceramics collection, from which he was able to take moulds for his own Wunderkammer.

Wunderkammer 17, 2016

Matt Smith, Wunderkammer 19, 2017. 13 x 27 x 14 cm.

A wunderkammer, or a cabinet of curiosities, is the term for an unclassified, encyclopaedic collection of objects. The concept emerged in the sixteenth century, and was popularized by Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor from 1576 – 1612, whose own cabinet was a space for private contemplation. Wunderkammers were spaces of unparalleled wonder and beauty — a mixture of almost literally everything and anything that caught the owner’s fancy. The lack of categorisation was due to the then-limited ability to properly categorise objects. For example, naturalia included everything from corals and mother-of-pearls to, amazingly, “unicorn horns”. These have been identified as narwhal tusks, although perhaps the charm of a unicorn’s horn is more appealing.  Many of these objects were augmented with gilt mounts, seen to both frame the object and enhance its value. As it began with royalty, wunderkammers were soon in the homes of the rich and powerful, eager to show off their collections as a reflection of their own wealth and intellect.

Wunderkammer 23, 2016.png

Matt Smith, Wunderkammer 23, 2017. Black Parianware. 15 x 12 x 9 cm.

Traditionally, each collection is a pronouncement of the best parts of one’s personality. Smith addresses its institutional ties. In the museum, objects are curated to form a cohesive narrative; in the process, their origins are often obscured. Where personal collections, like a wunderkammer, present the taste of the individual, because museums divide these collections for their own purposes, the intimacy of personal touch is hard to come by. Smith is interested in “how these collections can be used as a means to display identity.” His own Wunderkammer aims to bring forth identity by physically reuniting disparate sculptures. Of special interest were the Walpole Cabinet and a wooden cravat carved by renowned 17th century sculptor Grinling Gibbons. By recreating and reassembling objects, Smith hoped to “make visible some of the emotional bonds and connections” that originally existed, fashioning something of his own unicorn horns.

Featured Image: Matt Smith, Wunderkammer 1, 2016. Black Parianware. 28 x 26 x 9 cm.

By Joyce Choong

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