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Habitat: Obsessions—A Look at Matthew Higgs’s Formidable Record Collection

Matthew Higgs photographed with his record collection in New York City.

Matthew Higgs photographed with his record collection in New York City.

Habitat: Obsessions is a ten-part series of visits to the surprising non-art collections of art-world professionals.

Matthew Higgs’s collection of records numbers about 7,500, about 5,000 of which are neatly organized in his Chelsea apartment. “The rest are either in my office, storage, or back in the U.K,” says Higgs, the West Yorkshire, U.K.-born director and chief curator of the New York alternative space White Columns. For Higgs, “curating and collecting have a lot of things in common: researching, finding, contextualizing, and sharing with audiences.”

His holdings spans genres and price points. One of his most valuable records—a rare original pressing of Stephen Encinas’s “Disco Illusion” on the Kalinda label—was a gift from artist Peter Doig. Higgs is known for DJing friend’s parties, and he thinks the record he’s played the most is The Return of the Durutti Column by the Durutti Column. “I bought my first copy in 1980 when I was 15,” he said. “I’ve probably owned five different copies of it over the following 35 years, replacing them as they got worn out.”

When I visited Higgs in early June, the legendary record store Other Music on Fourth Street in Manhattan was to close in a few weeks. The number of quality record shops is dwindling everywhere, but he named New York’s A1 and Academy Records and London’s Phonica Records as a few of his current favorites. His all-time-favorite is Vinyl Mania, the now-defunct shop on Carmine Street in New York, which he says is sorely missed by collectors. “It’s maybe the greatest dance record store of all time!” he told me.

Music has been a constant in Higgs’s long career. As a teenager, he started a music fanzine called Photophobia and in the 1990s, when he ran his influential mail art project Imprint 93, some artists he worked with produced cassettes. At White Columns he started a label called The Sound of White Columns, releasing records by Tussle, Billy Childish, and others. “One of the great things about recorded music is that it’s so extraordinarily accessible,” Higgs said. “The democratic aspect of it is also partly why it remains interesting as a way for artists to circulate ideas.” He mentioned as examples artists Jeremy Deller, Martin Creed, and Darren Bader, who recently offered records at his show at Sadie Coles HQ in London.

Records are undervalued, in Higg’s estimation. “You can buy extraordinary things for relatively little,” he said. He used to go to live music more but realized over the years he was standing further and further from the stage, adding, “I think a lot of the music I gravitate to isn’t meant to be seen live.”

“Music is, to all practical intents and purposes, infinite—so there will always be new things to discover, as well as new music being made every day, so I can’t see my enthusiasm for it waning,” Higgs said later, as he showed me an Arthur Russell record with art by Albert Oehlen. “Wherever you go, whatever decade, there’s always these really amazing connections between the most interesting artists and the most interesting musicians.”

Below, a look at some of Higgs’s vast collection.

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