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“Museum of Nothing” at UC Santa Barbara is something to see

Beth Thornton
A wall of stickers at The Museum of Nothing.

There’s an exhibit on campus at UC Santa Barbara called The Museum of Nothing. The items on display are of little value and have no particular meaning, according to the UCSB professor who collected them.

Theater professor William Davies King has spent a lifetime collecting things most of us pay no attention to – like the stickers on fruits and vegetables, or designs on cracker boxes. His collections are now on display in the Red Barn gallery at UCSB.

“I think you have to look at the world of collecting with a sense of humor – almost any kind of collecting,” King said.

What started as a childhood hobby has become a massive collection, with thousands of pages of labels and stickers in protective covers. A sample of his collections line the walls of the gallery.

“This is a wall of blueberry labels, fresh blueberries, and they are beautifully, interestingly designed to evoke the delicious taste of a blueberry,” he said.

Over the decades, King said he has accumulated 300 or so different blueberry labels.

He said, as a child, he didn’t have the means to collect expensive, high value items so he started collecting what was free and available to him.

“My choice to find beauty in things that were not worth something, not valuable, was sort of a survival strategy initially,” King said.

To this day, he carefully saves labels as he puts away his groceries. And he sometimes peels off decals from lamp posts and bus stops.

King said he does see himself in these sticker collections, but it’s not a historical timeline of his life — it’s mostly background noise that everybody will relate to.

Professor Dave King with an exhibit of Cheez-It boxes. He also collects cereal boxes.
Beth Thornton
Professor Dave King with an exhibit of Cheez-It boxes. He also collects cereal boxes.

One corner of the gallery is dedicated to Cheez-It boxes – 130 bright red cardboard packages featuring the popular square cracker.

King said he’s not able to explain why he still collects these items, but he realizes that there is some logic to collecting, in general.

“There’s a psycho-logic to it, a socio-logic to it, a historical-logic and definitely an art-logic to it,” he said.

Throughout the gallery, King has posted sayings about nothing.

Here's a comment from Olivia, a UCSB student visiting the gallery:
“I particularly like the stuff that’s on the walls that says like, “Nothing matters because nothing matters,” it makes me think that nothing does matter because everything matters, so therefore nothing also matters…”, she said.

Professor King has also written a book called Collections of Nothing. You can visit The Museum of Nothing free at the Red Barn gallery on the UCSB campus until July 12, 2023.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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