By Brieanah Gouveia, Web-Editor
On Friday, September 11, Wunderkammer: Origins of the Collection was unveiled to hundreds of wide-eyed visitors. From an embalmed, two-headed pig fetus and the personal mineral collection of Roanoke College’s founder David Bittle, to scientific microbial slides and renderings of designs by the internationally famed sculptor Alive Aycock, Olin Gallery’s current exhibition is one of the most engaging and fascinating shows to animate the space since Ralph Eaton’s installation in the fall of 2014.
Kick-starting the opening night, Professor of Art History Jane Long gave a lecture on the origination of collecting as a hobby during the Italian Renaissance and its development into a global amusement in the moder
n era. The extensive and sometimes peculiar products of this fascinating activity are commonly referred to as cabinets of curiosities, also known by the German term Wunderkammern. Wunderkammer brings a modern spin to this concept of collecting through the compilation and curation of a variety of objects associated with curiosity cabinets into one, cohesive exhibition.
The items displayed range in subject matter and age, some dating back to a couple centuries ago and others as recent as this century. The dynamism of this exhibition reveals a unique characteristic of contemporary galleries – the ability to curate exhibitions in which the past is highlighted in such a way that it gains a revived sense of relevance to the present, an ability which non-contemporary gallery spaces are limited in their explorative license.
This exhibition features the personal collections of past and present faculty of Roanoke College, such as professors of art history, biology, chemistry and math, in addition to some historic collections of the college archives, as well as taxidermy on loan from an alum and the Virginia Museum of Natural History. The assortment of individuals who contributed materials, artifacts, ideas, and even elbow grease for the agglomeration of this exhibition express the truly multidisciplinary and expansive nature of collecting and its captivating quality. At the heart of this exhibition is the simple truth that everyone finds value in collecting and the power of collections themselves. Although the items collected vary from person to person, all Wunderkammern can be esteemed – even those that may make viewers cringe.
Wunderkammer will be on display through Sunday, October 11. Audiences of all ages are encouraged to visit the exhibition, examine and, when appropriate, interact with the objects before these items return to their respective cases and shelves, some to never be admired by such a volume of inquisitive eyes for a very long time, if ever again.