Curiosity: Art, Wonder and the Pleasures of Knowing

‘Curiosity’ is an exhibition curated by Dillon and organised by Hayward Touring. It was developed in association with Cabinet magazine (of which Dillon is UK editor), and opened at Turner Contemporary, Margate, in May 2013. It tours to Norwich Castle Museum (September 2013–January 2014) and De Appel, Amsterdam (summer 2014). It is accompanied by 240-page book to which Dillon contributed a long essay, ‘Essays at curiosity, or eight ways of looking’ (pp.13–23), and 22 shorter essays on individual works and selected material, which form an anthology of historical writings on the subject.

The exhibition and book examine the history of curiosity, the historical modes of display of ‘curiosities’ as well the valence of both these categories for contemporary artists. Commentators have recognised the exhibition’s original contribution to understanding of the history of curation, collecting and display. ‘One of the lessons of this curious exhibition’, according to the London Review of Books (2013), ‘is that sometimes the really interesting task isn’t the looking but the gathering, the organising, the cataloguing, the handling’.

The exhibition and book are the result of extensive research into the history and collections of major museums in the UK and elsewhere over two years – including the Wellcome Collection, the Science Museum, the Royal Collection and the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris. The show includes 40 historic artworks and artefacts (including collections), ranging from Old Master drawings and paintings, through 19th-century scientific specimens, as well as works by over 20 contemporary artists.

‘Curiosity’ was the subject of preview articles and was favourably reviewed in The Independent, The London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement and the Spectator (all 2013). Dillon also published his research in related articles in the Guardian (2013) and Aperture (2013).