Sir Mark Jones asks "Why do we collect?" at Bonhams New York

NEW YORK — A standing room only crowd welcomed Sir Mark Jones, former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, to Bonhams for his highly anticipated March 19 lecture, "Why do we collect?" Established and emerging collectors, as well as inquisitive scholars, museum professionals and members of the press comprised the audience. The diverse group was doubtlessly drawn by the thought-provoking topic as well the unparalleled expertise of Sir Mark and lecture's moderator, Dr. Ian Wardropper, the current Director of the Frick Collection in New York.

The evening began with a wry introduction from the evening's host, Jonathan Stone. Stone praised Bonhams as a true "collector's auction house," while sharing humorous observations related to his own 70 year-strong interest in collecting – an interest that began with a collection of bus tickets when he was six years old.

Sir Mark then opened the lecture by showing a slide of the Louvre in Paris, and asking the audience to reflect on the significance of devoting such a historic and central building to collection display. Museums, he concluded, are not unlike the pilgrimage sites of the past, where those seeking a religious experience came to view collections of relics. Today, visitors from all over the world are drawn to museums' collections, in hopes of having an equivalent aesthetic experience.

Sir Mark also spoke to the relationship between collecting and conspicuous consumption. Privilege has always manifested itself through obvious devotion of resources to activities devoid of practicality. Some animals are even known to engage in the practice. Collecting epitomises this dynamic while museums, essentially competitions of display, represent this impulse on a societal level. The collections they house may not directly sustain the bodies of the citizens they represent, but according to Sir Mark, museums can contribute substantially to the well-being of a populace by collectively satisfying the desire to collect and display.

Sir Mark's thoughtful comments were followed by a question and answer session, moderated by Dr Wardropper. Dr Wardropper spoke briefly about his own history with collecting – which has included everything from medals to old master prints – and how that impulse has now been channelled into his extraordinarily successful museum career. Audience members were brimming with enthusiasm as Dr Wardropper and Sir Mark addressed a wide range of topics, including the role of art advisory firms, the psychoanalytic theories behind children's collecting habits, and the importance of collecting as a method of preservation.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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