The Watermill Center Collection is much more than a static accumulation of artifacts. It is very much a living entity that is one of the many artistic media in which Founder and Artistic Director Robert Wilson explores the relationship between the human body and its surrounding space. In this sense, collecting is an essential component of Wilson’s artistic work, which draws upon a vast and continuously expanding inventory comprising images, objects, texts, music, and gestures. In Wilson’s world, all elements that are part of the total experience have similar weight. Foreground and background, down to the smallest detail, do not compete with one another, but rather, form a synchronous experiential field of infinite richness.
Much of the material for this tapestry of stimuli is drawn from Wilson’s intense interaction with his collection. Wilson started collecting as a teenager. Over the past fifty years, the Collection has grown to almost 8,000 pieces and still expands at a rate of approximately 300 pieces every year. Based on Wilson’s vision, the Collection is highly personal and eclectic, ranging widely across all continents, from the Stone Age to the present.
The Collection contains many museum-quality pieces, especially from various Indonesian cultures, and by contemporary artists such as Paul Thek, Donald Judd, Bruce Nauman, Agnes Martin, and Richard Serra. The Collection also includes one of the largest privately held collections of chairs by important designers like Carlo Bugatti, Gerrit Rietveldt, Charles Eames, Gio Ponti, Shiro Kuramata, as well as original designs by Robert Wilson himself. However, its main strength lies in the careful juxtaposition of very different objects, emphatically transcending the distinction between high and low culture, between art and the everyday. Each work derives its significance through its dialogue with other objects in a carefully controlled arrangement. The Collection is an important thread in the fabric of life at The Center.
For the International Summer Program participants and the Fall/Spring Artists-in-Residence, the collection serves as a daily challenge and inspiration to the development of their new work, in close physical proximity to artworks that represent various cultures and movements.